Schools ‘bursting at seams’

More classroom spaces are needed.
More classroom spaces are needed.
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A baby boom, new homes and an increase in the number of migrants coming into the area has left some schools bursting at the seams.

Schools are being extended and classrooms remodelled to cope with an increased demand for places, which council chiefs say they could not have predicted when they decided to close some schools six years ago.

The Express reported in 2007 that 5,000 surplus primary school places were costing the local authority £5m a year, which led to the controversial merger of 11 schools including Throstle Farm J&I School in Knottingley, which was amalgamated with Simpson’s Lane J&I School.

Jane Hall, Wakefield Council’s service manager for schools organisation and operation, said: “Things have changed from where we were in 2007. The surplus was expected to go up back then, but it didn’t.

“The government wanted councils to reduce surplus places to save money. Ours was 17 per cent and they wanted a surplus of no more than 10 per cent.

“We were not as radical as some local authorities like Leeds in tackling the problem and took more of a planned approach, aimed at improving the quality of education and doing away with separate junior and infant schools, so we are in a much stronger position to deal with shortfall.”

Areas that are now experiencing an increased demand for school places at reception age include Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley.

Mrs Hall said the council needs an extra 165 reception class places this year and 225 more need to be created by 2014 district wide, but added there is not currently a shortage of secondary school places, but it will become a problem by 2020.

Rachel Laybourne, the council’s team manager for schools organisation, sufficiency and information, said: “We couldn’t have predicted the baby boom and while we know how many new homes are planned for the area, we don’t know when they will be built, There has been an influx of Czech and Romany migrants, but again this is something we could not have accounted for because they can arrive at any time.”

Nationally an additional 250,000 school places are needed by September next year. She added: “It is going to become increasingly more difficult for parents to get their first choice of school, but we are working on solutions.”