Shortage of school places means ‘drastic action’ is needed

Fran Taylor

Kent is suffering from a serious lack of classrooms – a problem set to get worse as the number of children entering primary school surges – despite a record spend on school places of £120 million forecast for this year.

A study conducted by Scape Group, a public sector organisation that provides government bodies with consultation on ‘built environment’ projects, found an additional 581 new classrooms need to be provided in the county by 2020.

Using Department of Education figures, the group estimates an additional 17,442 new school places will be required by the end of the decade.

Mark Robinson, Scape Group Chief Executive, warned the current system will be ‘overwhelmed’ in less than five years unless ‘drastic action’ is taken.

He added: “As the growth of the primary school population gathers pace, the pressure on school places will soon transfer to the secondary population, requiring a new wave of advanced school-building. In a post-Brexit economy, with all of the uncertainty this brings, the construction of new schools must sit high on the government’s agenda, and local authorities must be given the necessary tools and funding required to deliver extra places in time.”

County council documents reveal a mixed picture in Tunbridge Wells. The authority, noted in its ‘Commissioning Plan for Education Provision in Kent’ that a ‘significant need’ for additional secondary school provision will be required in the borough between now and 2020.

It also states the scope for future primary school expansion is ‘limited’ due to the nature and location of available sites, although the reception year intake is forecast to ‘fluctuate’.

However, while the authority believes the borough has ‘sufficient capacity’ to accommodate total pupil numbers, it states this fact ‘masks’ areas of localised pressure with rural areas having a surplus of places and ‘urban’ areas facing deficits – driven primarily by new housing projects and demand for selective education from pupils outside of the borough.

Kent County Council also identified ‘significant pressure points’ within Tonbridge and Malling district, driven by ‘sustained indigenous population growth’.

It adds: “Small but significant pockets of housing developments and inward migration around the Tonbridge town area have created localised pressures.” The report predicts shortfalls in secondary school provision within Tonbridge from 2018-19. It also forecasts £119.7 million will be spent on schools in 2016/17, up from £86.7 million last year and in excess for the predicted spend of £87.1 million next year.

A Kent County Council spokesman told the Times the authority has plans to meet the demand through expanding existing schools.

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