To update the Commission on the School Places Plan and School Capacity Strategy.
The Commission considered an update report and received a comprehensive presentation in respect of the School Places Plan and School Capacity Strategy. Chris Taylor, Interim Chief Officer: Strategy, Resources and Early Help explained to Members that the Council’s School Places Plan (SPP) provided a five year forecast for pupil numbers and the School Capacity Strategy (SCS) was based on the SPP and both were updated annually. He explained how the plans responded to issues such as house building in the borough, consideration of the ‘local schools for local people’ and the diseconomy costs associated with opening new schools until they reached capacity. In order to explain the development of the SPP and SCS he explained how officers reviewed demographic information alongside school places trends and projections based on new housing developments. He highlighted the unpredictability of the issues which impacted upon school numbers such as delays in house building and lower pupils forecast.
Nikki Edwards, Director of Children, Young People and Learning explained that the team were working closely with the Chief Officer: Planning, Transport & Countryside regarding the development of the new Local Plan.
The School Places Plan and School Capacity Strategy were discussed at some length and arising from discussion and question the following pints were made:
· The Bracknell Forest Schools Forum had agreed that schools falling below 85% would have their revenue deficit refunded to them because the base cost for schools remained the same despite the size of the intake. This was funded from Schools block money which would otherwise have been distributed amongst the schools.
· The current risk descriptors were set based on previous experience e.g. no school’s project had ever been aborted and the risk to the Council’s reputation was considered low based on previous experience. The Interim Chief Officer: Strategy, Resources and Early Help agreed to review the categories used as there was an increased factor in those areas however the impact would be to adjust the Council’s strategy.
· Pupil projections were based on the number of houses and this was changeable from application to delivery especially if land was sold.
· Members noted that it was disappointing that the Amen Corner North school was on the road but it was explained that it was set out to respond to all the schools needs including a flat playing pitch. The Department for Education design guide requirements would be complied with. The large boundary of trees would offer some protection to the site.
· External consultants door knocked new Bracknell Forest houses to investigate occupancy so data used was robust. However it was noted that anecdotally officers were aware that smaller dwellings were housing higher numbers of children but this would need to be proven in the next survey.
· Viability of small school model was being considered and housing development may not justify two form entry school. There were different options to address this such as sites sharing headteachers to reduce costs.
· The projections do factor in a level of churn in the housing market but it was noted that in some housing developments the children had now finished school.
· It was noted that if an Academy changed its catchment area the Council would need to revise its catchment area to respond.
· Children with special needs provided with a statement would determine where a child needed to be schooled. The Council was sending children outside of the borough to be educated which was an emerging issue for the department.
The Director of Children, Young People and Learning advised the meeting that she had raised the safeguarding issue with the Children’s Commissioner that there was a risk of academies selecting who was on their roll to make results look better. Academies are attracting pupils based on academic need and unwanted pupils are being told there is no space, that they need to be educated at home or are excluded.
The Director of Children, Young People and Learning concluded that Bracknell Forest’s school places team were the strongest she had worked with in her career. She hoped that they had given Members confidence in the process as it was a fine art.
Councillor Dr Barnard, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Learning added that he had a lot of confidence in the team who had been consistently successful in achieving funding for these school developments.
On behalf of the Commission, the Chairman thanked the Director and the Head of Education Capital & Property for providing such open information delivered with sincerity. The Commission recognised this was an important document and would follow its process.