There was considerable discussion in the media last week about pressure on Primary School places. I have carried out considerable analysis of the Kent situation and clearly there are critical parts of the county, whilst in others with falling numbers there may well be calls for undersubscribed schools to close.
My analysis is based on Primary school allocations in March 2010, although of course there will have been some movement since, especially in parts of West Kent (see below) where some parents disappointed with their school allocation will have taken up places in private schools. It is immediately apparent that the most critical area was Tunbridge Wells where KCC headed off some problems by creating an additional 55 places to add to the 765 available. Just four schools out of the 17 had vacant spaces and between them they absorbed the 76 children who were not offered any of the schools applied for, leaving just 3 vacant spaces in the whole district.
Next up was Sevenoaks where again KCC intervened to put in an additional 45 places. This time there were just 6 out of 27 schools with vacancies initially, but after 61 Local Authority allocations, there were still 38 spaces left in these schools.
Gravesham is an area I know well and eighteen months ago I warned KCC there were problems brewing. This year they began to come to a head and in Northfleet there was not a single school with a vacancy, with some children being sent to the new Manor School in Swanscombe expanded to take them. In urban Gravesend itself, the situation is not much better, with just three schools having vacancies, one of which received 27 children whose parents had not applied for it. On the other hand, there are plenty of spaces going begging in the rural areas of Gravesham.
Other hot spots include: parts of Dartford, Tonbridge and surprisingly parts of Thanet. On the other hand, Dover had a quarter of its places left empty, with five schools being under half full. A total of 25 Kent primary schools were under half full, with three schools taking in 20% or less of their capacity. If government is looking to squeeze the budget, KCC will shortly have to make some very difficult decisions with these schools, perhaps to provide funds for the areas under pressure. The most popular primary school in Kent was St John's CofE Primary - Tunbridge Wells, followed by Callis Grange Infants in Broadstairs.
I have focused on numbers in this article, but we should never forget it is the future lives and education of four year old children being moved around to make the spaces fit.