Agenda item

School Place Planning - Quarterly Update - July 2021


The Corporate Director for Planning, Environment, Education and Community Services and the School Place Planning Project Manager introduced the report and provided an overview of the latest quarterly update on school places.


It was noted that the Covid -19 pandemic had had a local and national impact on school planning.  Key points of the report were highlighted, with particular reference made to the fact that Hillingdon school rolls remained the seventh highest in London with 52,350 total pupils on roll on the January 2021 school census from nursery to sixth form. Most secondary schools and half of all primary schools were full, all special schools and special resourced places in mainstream had filled up given the rise of Education Healthcare Plans (EHCP) over the past year and although nursery numbers had declined the sixth form number had risen.


Following Member questions, it was confirmed that the Council had a series of structured consultations with schools and schools were aware of the Council’s priorities and contributed to them. There were termly meeting with the Primary Forum including primary heads and  secondary with secondary heads, and as necessary with individual school leaders and governors. During lockdown there had been more engagement with schools as this could be done virtually. The standard process for new free schools was explained to the Committee with reference to Bishop Arden. This was led by the Department for Education (DFE), and although there had been a drop in primary school places for a number of reasons including Brexit and the impact of pandemic, due diligence checks had to be made to ensure that such an investment was needed. To date, the DfE had agreed that the current and future demand required a new school, noting that the original demand and bid was for north of the A40, but parents choose secondary places across the Borough and beyond, so any new school had to be well located for its whole lifetime to maximise value and serve residents.


Concerns were discussed about the extent current secondary schools were full without the DfE recommended 5% margin of spare capacity and that 16 % of unfilled places in primary schools had become challenging causing budget issues.


Members questioned whether there had been too many primary school places put in place. It was explained that there had been a continuous demand for primary school places in different areas and the Council had invested heavily to expand schools to keep pace with the rising demand up to 2018. There would be some reductions to Published Admissions Numbers to improve operational management, this was normal, as were temporary increases where they were required, and over time the margins could reduce to better reflect parent demand. It was noted that Cabinet would consider the specific cases for reductions in primary school published admission numbers in October 2021 and it was requested that this information be shared with the Committee.


However, the changing picture was significant with factors such as families moving out of the Borough due to Brexit and Covid, economic changes, birth rates decreasing and new housing developments all had an impact on school places. The Council needed to work closely and flexibly with schools to coordinate admission numbers in light of the changing position. It was explained that many vacant physical spaces were used by schools for other purposes to benefit pupils and also improved facilities for children with additional needs.


It was recognised that the school places for secondary schools were limited, but the planned expansion of Harlington school in the south was underway, though there had been challenges in finding a suitable site for a new secondary school The Committee was informed that the proposed free school would be subject to detailed consultations on its operation and policies and its application for planning permission from late 2021 into 2022..

The Committee sought clarity on the number of children that had ECHPs awaiting a school place and it was confirmed that as applications were continuous through the year there was often  an active waiting list of around 20 children. The Committee would receive further information on ECHPs and special needs at the next meeting.


In response to questions about repurposing empty primary classrooms for  extra special school places to meet the rise in demand, , many of these were unsuitable due to practical design reasons or did not have the scale of empty spaces needed. Options were being explored such as creating offsite units of existing special schools where those already established schools managed the running of the schools and recruited suitably skilled staff.


It was noted that parental preference was significant, as that was how pupils actually joined schools,  and parents were becoming more likely to travel across, or out of  the borough for good and outstanding schools . It was noted that three faith secondary schools served the whole of the Borough.


It was reported that September 2020 had the highest intake of sixth formers. There had been an increase in elective home education, but it was not clear if some of these pupils would return to school when the pandemic receded.  Figures of the number of home-schooled children would be provided.


The Committee considered school places planning to be an area of complexity and challenge and there were variables and flexibility that needed to be taken into account. The Committee recognised the challenges in planning school places whilst considering the changing position and pandemic. It was encouraging to see the success in making offers with so many preferences in the Borough and officers were commended for their work.


RESOLVED: That the Committee noted the update and actions underway to support parents and schools and questioned officers about the update.

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