To note the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2020-24. These were last approved by the Executive in January 2017 and have now been updated to cover the five-year period from 2020 to 2024.
The Forum considered a report which presented the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy (SPP) 2020-24. These were last approved by the Executive in January 2017 and have been updated to cover the five-year period from 2020 to 2024.
Chris Taylor explained that primary school numbers were decreasing across the Borough. Secondary numbers were still increasing as the previous rise of primary numbers was working its way up through secondary schools. The two main factors affecting pupil numbers were birth rate, which was decreasing, and new housing, where predictions often exceeded delivery.
Pupil yields arising from new housing have also decreased.
Chris Taylor highlighted the new mainstream pupil forecasting methodology (outlined in Annex 1 of the report), which was based on the principle of cohort survival and DfE guidance as well as consideration of best practice from neighbouring authorities and an external specialist. The Forum questioned whether the methodology has been tested on previous years to validate it. Chris Taylor advised that it had been tested to a degree and found to work.
In September 2019 half of primary schools had no surplus places and the other half had surpluses to varying degrees. Borough-wide this amounted to a total surplus of 905 places or 8%. Therefore, there were no plans to add any additional primary school capacity in this forecast period. Demand for places would be met across each planning area, acknowledging that pupils could travel to neighbouring schools if their catchment area school was full, but could not be expected to travel further across the borough or to neighbouring boroughs.
As surplus places put pressure on school budgets, the capacity strategy outlined that removal of further surplus places may be required during the forecast period. This could be achieved by converting teaching spaces to other uses such as learning support or leasing out surplus accommodation to paying tenants.
The Forum queried why the strategy did not include the possibility of closing schools. Chris Taylor replied that there didn’t appear to be any appetite in the Council to close schools, so this was not included in the strategy. Councillor Barnard added that local schools for local children was very important to the Council and that there was a need to hold onto local links.
Chris Taylor advised that reductions in school places would need to be carefully considered in the light of the surplus places at each school. Removal of surplus places would also need to go hand in hand with finding compatible alternative uses for the surplus accommodation.
The Forum questioned whether the Council had a list of schools they were earmarking. Chris Taylor advised that, if the strategy were to be agreed, it would be put into place and those schools would be identified and then contacted. Chris stressed the importance of input from the Forum regarding the strategy and was happy to take ideas of measures to reduce surplus places.
Academy numbers were not set by the Council, but where academy schools had shared their capacity plans with the Council, these had been incorporated into the SPP.
The Forum discussed the overall population demographic and hypothesised that the low numbers of people aged 30-45 possibly related to a lack of affordable housing. Councillor Barnard advised that the Council Plan included provision for affordable housing.
The Forum asked how place planning would impact the schools’ budget on the shorter term. Chris Taylor explained that they had identified which schools were not full but had not done budget planning scenarios. It was agreed that this would be the logical next step.
Action: Chris Taylor
There was a shrinking surplus of places at secondary schools, and only two schools had significant surpluses of places. Borough-wide in September 2019 there was a surplus of 967 places or 13%.
The secondary school capacity strategy included planning on a Borough-wide basis as secondary-aged pupils could travel between planning areas to secure a school place if their catchment area school was full. This meant that forecast demand was likely to be balanced as some schools would have deficits and others would have surpluses of places.
The strategy included Kings Group Academy (KGA) Binfield expanding from a Published Admission Numbers (PAN) of 150 in September 2019 to a PAN of 210 from September 2021, which was a previous commitment. This was balanced out however by Garth Hill College and Easthampstead Park schools both requesting their PANs be reduced by 1FE from September 2021.
The Forum questioned whether it could consider the implication of KGA’s plan to make their admissions criteria prioritise children from their feeder. Chris Taylor advised that this was not under our direct control but that the Council would expect to be consulted on any changes to their admissions arrangements.
In September 2019 there was a significant surplus 813 places or 46%. By September 2024 this was expected to fall to a surplus of 28% but even that was felt to be significant. The proposed Post 16 Strategy therefore included undertaking a joint review of Post 16 capacity with schools to look at the surplus places during the next forecast period.
The Forum queried whether there was a net import or export of post-16 students. Chris Taylor replied that admissions into Post 16 was a school responsibility and the Council did not have details of the numbers of applications for which school. He observed that we would never expect to keep 100% of post-16 students in our schools as many would choose to go to other colleges (e.g. Bracknell & Wokingham College or Farnborough Sixth Form College).
The Forum questioned whether the Council considered pressures in neighbouring authorities in the strategy. Chris Taylor shared that there had been joint working with neighbouring authorities who seemed to be experiencing similar patterns of school admissions including reducing primary numbers in the intake year. Having surplus school places in neighbouring authorities could exacerbate the issues in Bracknell Forest as it provided more scope for parental preference.
The Forum asked what the plan was to take this strategy forward. Chris Taylor advised that the paper would go to the Executive in January 2020 and, if agreed, would then be published and the team would start working on actions soon after. The next steps would be looking at the criteria, talking to schools re numbers, and commencing the post-16 review. A detailed action plan would be shared.
Action: Chris Taylor
The Forum requested an analysis of which schools would be most affected by the predicted period of financial turbulence. This would be presented in the meeting of the Forum in March 2020.
Action: Chris Taylor
The Forum noted that primary schools in the north of the Borough had particular issues and it was agreed to hold a meeting with relevant members in January as long as the paper was approved by the Executive.
Action: Chris Taylor
The Chairman thanked Chris for the comprehensive and well explained presentation.
RESOLVED to NOTE the School Places Plan and School Capacity Strategy 2020-24.