Secondary schools in Portsmouth will have to find more than 2,500 extra places in the next six years to cope with a ‘bulge’ in pupil numbers – and fears have been raised that schools are already under pressure for space.
Figures from the Department for Education has shown that a number of schools across Portsmouth are operating at over their agreed capacity – one secondary and 10 primary schools had too many children in the last academic year.
While many of the city’s schools within their limits, the data raised concerns about the ability of of schools to cope with the projected increase in demand for an additional 2,600 school places.
Government projections indicate Portsmouth secondary schools will need to find an additional 2,603 places with the school population forecast to rise from 8,635 in the last academic year to 11,238 by 2024.
The projection is based on the population bulge now filtering through primary schools.
While the situation for primary schools is not so acute, an extra 653 pupils are still projected to enter the school system over the same period.
Concerns have been raised by National Education Union vice-president and Portsmouth teacher, Amanda Martin.
Ms Martin said: ‘The situation of capacity comes down to funding and space. I am aware of schools in the city with class sizes of 35 children which means less one-to-one time and teacher support. I know of one school which had an onsite lodge which could be used for additional teaching space but they are now having to rent it out to generate extra revenue. Safeguarding staff and special educational needs co-ordinators end up working out of reception offices due to pressures on space.’
For St Edmund’s headteacher, Simon Graham, the situation was made worse by the abolition of the government’s Building Schools for the Future Programme.
‘We were due to be part of the fourth phase of investment which didn’t come to fruition,’ said Mr Graham. ‘We had already made certain improvements on the premise of receiving this money.
‘Since then there is no real clarity on how schools access funding to expand and replace buildings which are falling down. If the government provided me with £5m I could transform this site. At present I am unsure as to where funding will come from to sustain expansion and improvements moving forward.’
Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for education Suzy Horton said: ‘Priory School was due to benefit from a rebuild and I know the council at the time was very disappointed.’
The council has already started to bring in measures to cope with the projected increase. As reported, plans have been announced for an £8.5m investment to create space for an additional 380 school places by 2023.
This follows on from a £10.2m investment to create a further 1,000 places by 2021 at Charter Academy, Portsmouth Academy and Trafalgar and Admiral Lord Nelson schools.
Councillor Horton said: ‘The council is investing in secondary school expansion projects to provide nearly 1,000 additional places. In addition, the council is taking forward a number of feasibility studies to determine where additional places will be located to meet the longer term increasing demand.’
This will mean hundreds of further places will still need to be found by 2024.
Cllr Horton added: ‘We know these are challenging times in education with cuts from central government both in daily funding and investing in school buildings. But n Portsmouth we will ensure that there are sufficient places for our children in a high quality learning environment.’