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Displaying items by tag: Primary Admissions

Monday, 04 October 2010 15:21

Pressure on Primary Places

Kent has seen a dramatic fall in the number of vacant primary school places in the past six years from 3299 in the Reception Year in 2005-6, to an estimated 108 across the whole county next September. KCC recommends a vacancy rate of from 5-7%, but these figures represent a surplus of just 0.7%.

Published in News Archive

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.

Published in Newspaper Articles

The desperate shortage of primary school places in Gravesham is starkly illustrated this year when, after allocation of Primary Reception class places in March, there were no vacancies in any school in Northfleet, with many children being offered places out of the Borough at a school in Swanscombe. Only three schools had vacancies in urban Gravesend (North of the A2), between them taking in 40 children who did not apply for any of them but were turned away from all three of their preferred schools. Of course the situation will have changed since then with continued movement of families, but my impression from enquiries and information I receive, is that there is still movement into the area so the problems may be even worse.

I warned KCC in December 2008 of the coming problems in both primary and secondary schools in Gravesham, but the written reply from the KCC Cabinet Member at the time dismissed my concerns. They were however very real and an internal KCC Report the following July forecast an 11% shortfall in Infant Reception class places in Gravesham for September 2011, the largest deficit of the only three Districts in Kent with a shortage of places (Dartford is next with 8%).  This enormous shortfall is further masked by the distribution of places, with a considerable surplus of empty spaces in rural Gravesham.

Kent’s response so far has just been to reinstate places at two Gravesend schools that had previously shrunk in size because of their limited popularity with families, but there appear no plans to increase numbers at any of those schools that are oversubscribed. The county believes this is just a temporary blip with numbers beginning to fall again in a couple of years, but data I have from KCC itself for preschool children from birth age upwards shows no such decline. I appreciate that the influx of Eastern European children into the town could be temporary, but the forecast appears to assume that there will be no net movement into the town, in contrast to the pattern of recent years which has also seen considerable immigration from London. Now is the time to face up to this problem and look to expand some of the more popular schools permanently before disaster strikes.

I do appreciate it is difficult to forecast school numbers, and government places Local Authorities under intense pressure to keep vacant spaces to a minimum. However, Kent is a large county and Gravesham children are suffering because of the large number of vacancies in schools in other parts of the county, which inhibits any expansion. However in Tunbridge Wells, the third oversubscribed District (also 8% shortfall), an additional 50 places were created this summer in very popular schools. Our local representatives must respond to the urgent need to create new primary school places where they are needed before additional housing is agreed, otherwise we really shall have a crisis.

Published in Newspaper Articles
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