To present the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25. These were last approved by the Executive in January 2020 and have now been updated to cover the five-year period from 2021 to 2025.
The Forum considered a report which sought approval of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25. If approved, this would go before the Executive in February 2021 to be signed off.
Chris Taylor explained that, in the past, forecasts had been less than accurate, but since the new forecasting system had been introduced in 2019, it had proved to be 98% accurate for the 2020 intake. Chris Taylor hoped that would mean it continued to be accurate going forward.
Chris Taylor highlighted that there had been an expected decrease in early years and primary pupil numbers, which was a continuation of the trend from last year. Secondary and post-16 pupil numbers were both expected to increase. This was linked to the previous rise in primary numbers 5-8 years ago which was currently working its way up through secondary schools. An overall increase in SEN pupil numbers was forecast.
Graph One (paragraph 3.2 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25) showed the trend of the local population, plotting both the NHS Births data and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Population Predictions. Taken together, the figures suggested a decrease in the numbers of 5-year olds in Bracknell Forest over the next five years.
Graph Two (paragraph 3.3 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25) showed a spike in 2019/20 of housing completions in Bracknell Forest. The spike was linked to housing development which had been expected in earlier years and finally come to fruition. It was not anticipated that this spike in housing would result in a spike in the school population as 85% of families moving within the Borough did not move their children from their original school. It was expected that the peak of demand from the new housing may be reached up to 5-7 years after the commencement of the housing development.
Graph Fourteen (paragraph 8.1 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25) showed the forecasts of primary pupil numbers Borough-wide over the next 5 years. In September 2020 there had been a surplus of 11% and, if no action had been taken, this was expected to rise to 20% by 2025. The strategy to reduce the surplus of places was detailed in paragraphs 8.5-8.13 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25.
Graph Twenty-Two (paragraph 9.1 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25) showed the forecast secondary pupil numbers based on the intake year 7 for 2020-25. Overall, there was a surplus of 9% in 2020 and this was due to rise to a surplus of 11% by 2025.
The Forum queried the likelihood of the forecasts matching the actual numbers. Chris Taylor replied that the system was changed in 2019 so he had only been able to measure accuracy from the September 2020 intake. Chris Taylor could not guarantee that it would remain 98% reliable going forward, but the downward trend of population and birth data seemed to affirm the projections.
The Forum highlighted that the new Local Plan was scheduled to be published in the next month or so and asked Chris Taylor whether he had seen that, and whether there were any significant implications on school place planning. Chris replied that the Council was joined up on this and that the borough’s planners had included him in discussing the education implications of the projected new housing. Chris Taylor had done some calculations on what impact it may have on pupil yields. It was possible to estimate how many children arise from a house of a certain size and broadly estimate how many houses might be built on a given site area when housing was likely to be built based on previous data. It was however more difficult to estimate when new housing would come forward on land which was not yet designated for housing. Taking the worst-case scenario of maximum yield, Chris Taylor believed there was sufficient capacity in the school estate, especially for secondary pupils. However, due to the more limited mobility of primary-aged children, there was possibly a need to build more primary schools, depending when and where the new housing came forward.
The Forum asked whether there were any calculations about moving into the Borough and not just moving within the Borough. Chris Taylor replied that paragraphs 3.13-3.15 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25 set out the key issues in cross-border movement. The difficulties arose from primary schools being in the designated areas of different boroughs, meaning there was lots of potential for cross-border movement. The data for the last two years suggested a decrease in the numbers going to cross-border primary schools but an increase in those going to cross-border secondary schools.
The Forum asked whether the increase in housing production was likely to lead to more families coming into the Borough. Chris Taylor responded that he had not looked at that specific issue, but he felt that the scope may be higher for developments closer to the Borough boundaries.
Regarding the impact on individual school budgets, the Forum asked whether there was any plan to work with individual schools or to report to the Forum the impact on individual schools. Chris Taylor replied that, last year, Paul Clark helped him to take the forecast numbers and create “What If” budgets for each school. Paul Clark confirmed that it was the intention to provide medium term pupil forecasts and high-level budget income projections for all schools every year. The Forum expressed that it would also be useful to receive a report showing the overall pressures, particularly on the primary sector.
Action: Chris Taylor and Paul Clark
Councillor Barnard expressed that he had a high degree of confidence in the accuracy of the forecasts. The Woodhurst Park development had been expected to affect the yield in Warfield, but this did not materialise as parents chose to keep their children at the schools they were already at. This shows credibility in what Chris Taylor had reported.
The Chair asked Cherry Hall and Chris Taylor to comment on the Early Years figures in section 7 of the School Places Plan and Capacity Strategy 2021-25. Cherry Hall had been asked to be clearer on the Published Admission Numbers (PAN) for early years but explained that early years did not calculate a PAN. This was because providers adapted their capacity based on space requirements which were dependent on the age of the children attending. Cherry Hall’s team had done a lot of work to make more predictions, but this was challenging. However, with the available birth data they were getting better data. Chis Taylor added that, although there were significant differences in the way pupil places were measured, and the base data on which they were formulated was the same. Cherry Hall explained that they were also beginning to look at migration as well. What they did not know yet was how many of our children were going to providers outside the Borough. Cherry Hall was looking at how to work with our closest neighbours to gather data on that.
The Chair asked when the Childcare Sufficiency Assessment was due to be presented to the Forum. Cherry Hall explained that she was working on it and would present it to the Forum when it was ready. Paul Clark added that, although it was usually brought to the Forum in March, it did not have to be in March.
The Chair stated that the report was useful and generated a lot of confidence.
RESOLVED to APPROVE the School Places Plan and School Capacity Strategy 2021-25 in Appendix A of the report.