The rise and rise in demand for school places...

PLACES Parents face a fight to get their children into their first choice school
PLACES Parents face a fight to get their children into their first choice school
Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith
. Picture by Helen Yates

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It’s a worrying question many parents ponder every year – will my child get into their preferred school?

Demand for school places has been rising over the past few years.

Local authorities have found themselves expanding schools to make sure that every child has a place when they begin their education at the age of four.

So why is there such a demand for school places, and what has changed recently?

Chris Williams is the pupil place planning manager at Portsmouth City Council.

In the city for the start of this academic year, a total of 2,307 applications were received for reception year classes, with a total of 2,435 spaces available.

While there is space for every child, in practice it is not equally spread across the city, as there may be too many children living in one particular area.

This year, 120 extra places were made available to accommodate children in the city.

Mr Williams says: ‘Numbers have been rising for the last few years. It’s a national issue.

‘Part of it is the rising birth rate.

‘That’s been going up for the last few years. It’s continued to rise.

‘Some of the economic pressures have probably a played a part in this as well.

‘There isn’t quite the movement we have seen in recent years. People are staying within the city.

‘Our neighbours have also got the same pressures.

‘It would have affected the number of children who may have gone to independent education and are now keen to stay within the state schools.’

The council has spent £4.96m on a school place plan to ensure that there are enough places for children across the city.

And that demand is likely to rise in years to come with the Tipner development encouraging more people into the city.

‘This year we have undertaken a great deal of work with all of our schools,’ Mr Williams adds.

‘We knew there was going to be an issue coming up particularly on reception year places.

‘We have been working hard with schools to increase numbers where we can on existing school sites.

‘This year we have confidence that we have enough school places to accommodate pupils, so parents don’t have to worry about that.

‘We work very closely with schools. If we can add existing space within the building where maybe the school in the past has reduced their numbers, we will.

‘We revisit to see if the space might be there and we increase it.

‘With some of the schools there have been expansion programmes put in place.’

Mr Williams says often new teachers and staff are brought into schools if there is a significant expansion.

‘Normally they will have to bring in additional teachers,’ he says.

‘It depends how we are expending the school.’

At Hampshire County Council, which covers Fareham, Gosport and Havant, another 8,000 school places are predicted to be needed over the next few years.

A £237m project is enabling the council to build on the number of school places available.

Councillor Peter Edgar is the executive member of education at the council.

He says: ‘This is one of the largest capital programmes Hampshire has ever undertaken.

‘I had serious fears some years ago that with the changes going on in education that we would be underfunded.

‘While we always need more money, there’s no doubt we have worked very well with central government and they accepted the need for this funding.

‘We’re delighted that the government has accepted the importance of quality education facilities in Hampshire.

‘They accept that we need to enlarge and enhance the existing facilities to cope with the extra 8,000 pupils.

‘This is most encouraging for all in education in Hampshire.’

And Cllr Edgar says there is an increasing need for school places in the county, as more and more families tend to move to Hampshire.

‘There is a national increase in the birth rate which everywhere has had to cope with.

‘Hampshire has good quality schools overall.

‘Eighty-four per cent of our primary schoolchildren and 80 per cent of our secondary school children go to a good or outstanding school.

‘People do move to Hampshire because it’s a nice place to live and they can be assured their children are likely to get a quality education.

‘They do take consideration of the quality of education on offer when they make a move.

‘People are aware of the quality they require and schools have to be able to deliver for their children.’

In September, Mayfield School in North End is set to open its new infant school which will take in 60 new pupils.

Mr Williams adds: ‘We see Mayfield as a central location. It’s an area where we think there’s need and we will fill the school.’

Local authorities are constantly planning ahead to make sure that years in advance, there are enough school places.

‘We generally try to have a long-term plan,’ Mr Williams says. ‘We look at developments which are likely to impact on the city.

‘The situation is an ever-changing position. We use the best possible knowledge that we have to make sure we are aware of the impact on our schools.

‘We work with the health authority to make sure we pick up on any birth rate changes very quickly.

‘We have to take that through to make sure we have got enough places for every year group.’