Pledge to speed up new school places for Lancashire, as three districts are revealed as having children left out of class
Three Lancashire districts are seeing children left without school places after moving into the areas part-way through the academic year - and then struggling to secure access to schools outside of the usual annual window for applications.
Defined as “children missing education”, their status is the result of factors including Brexit, “which saw a rapid increase in the movement of people, followed immediately by the pandemic, which has impacted on travel patterns into these areas”, Lancashire County Council's new school place provision strategy states.
At a recent cabinet meeting where the document was approved, members were told that “significant numbers” of school-aged children who are new to the country are settling in Preston, along with Burnley and Pendle, “where the pressure for school places may already be a concern”.
In Burnley, more than 60 percent of the pupils on the children missing education list have not previously attended a UK school, while in Preston and Pendle, the proportion is over a third. The situation means that there is a need for language and other support for families to help them through the school admissions process and any subsequent appeals.
A full council meeting back in October heard that some children in Burnley and Pendle had been out of class for over a year.
Under the new strategy, the county council says that it will try to address the problem by reducing the time it takes to secure a school place once the academic year has begun. A new pupil access system was introduced last month and there are also plans to improve support for families moving into Lancashire, including the development of a physical single point of contact via which they can access a variety of services.
Separately, right across the county, the process of creating new classrooms at schools in parts of Lancashire where there is a shortage of pupil places will be sped up.
It is one of a raft of measures contained in the new strategy, in which the authority has committed to a more “innovative” approach to ensuring that there are enough “high quality, accessible” places for the area's children.
The plan is to use standardised designs for new school premises and modern methods of construction - such as the off-site manufacture of additional accommodation - in order to shorten the time it takes to deliver extra space. That could include temporary facilities to allow for a rapid increase in places, with the buildings able to be removed at a later date if pupil numbers reduce.
It comes as falling birth rates have seen a drop in demand for primary school places in some areas, but increased pressure on secondary school capacity as more pupils move into that phase of their education.
Although the Lancashire birth rate has reduced by 6.5 percent in the last five years, primary places remain at a premium in districts where demand is being fuelled by new housing - specifically, parts of Preston, Wyre, Fylde and Ribble Valley, which have been identified as "hotspots". Seventeen place planning areas - in parts of Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Ribble Valley, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre are deemed "coldspots" (see full list below).
At secondary level, Preston, Chorley, Ribble Valley, Burnley and Pendle are judged “priority hotspots” for new high school places. Hyndburn is a secondary "coldspot" and South Ribble and West Lancashire "priority coldspots", reflecting reduced demand.
While the expansion of existing good-performing and popular school facilities is the preferred method of increasing capacity, County Hall says that it will commission entirely new schools when required. Under government legislation, all new schools must be free school academies - meaning that they will be operated by a sponsor, not maintained by the county council itself.
The three-year provision strategy also commits to expanding pupils intakes across all year groups, rather than just reception and year 7, where demand outstrips forecast pupil numbers.
The document states an intention to seek “appropriate levels of developer contributions” from housebuilders where new estates are creating a need for new places.
However, Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali said that there was a “real inconsistency” in the existing system for securing developer cash for school expansions as part of the planning process.
“If we get a planning application for 30 homes, we [might] ask for a contribution to school places, [but] there could be an application for 200 homes and we don't ask for anything.
“We have pockets...where we’ve got [a] lack of school places at primary or secondary and some of [the necessary] funding could have been achieved through a proper contribution from developers,” County Cllr Ali said.
His deputy, Lorraine Beavers, added that there was too much focus on the birth rate when forecasting pupil numbers and not enough on “how the population...moves about the area and all the extra housing stock that’s being built”.
Conservative cabinet member for education and skills Jayne Rear said that the authority was considering lobbying the government to have education authorities like the county council defined as statutory consultees on planning applications so that they could make their voices “more widely heard” when it came to demanding developer contributions.
The strategy document also noted that County Hall “heavily relies” on the co-operation of Lancashire’s district councils - which grant permission for housing in the county council area - in order to secure school-related payments.
Children and families cabinet member Cosima Towneley said that the planning system was “rigged against” local authorities, with developers “very well set up to rebut” any funding requests made.
Deputy council leader Alan Vincent added that the way forward was to follow the model being used for the major housing development south of Lancaster and ensure that “large schemes for building houses...have to go hand in glove with a sure-fire scheme to provide [facilities such as] surgeries [and] schools”.
The county council says that it bases its forecasts for pupil numbers on a range of factors including school census information, birth data and the movement of pupils between areas.
Meanwhile, the authority is developing a new website designed to help families make “informed choices” about school applications by providing information on a range of relevant factors, including admissions criteria, which can vary by school type.
Lancashire County Council performs better than the national average in terms of how many children are awarded their first preference school, with 86.5 percent of pupils doing so in September 2021, compared to 82.2 percent nationwide in 2020.
At least one of their first three preferences was offered to 96.7 percent of Lancashire pupils in the current academic year - again above last year’s national average of 95.6 percent.
PRIMARY SCHOOL PLACE DEMAND
Split by district and school planning area, these are the locations where there is the most and least demand for primary school places in Lancashire.
Preston - Goosnargh & Grimsargh
Preston - Preston Rural
Ribble Valley - Clitheroe Town
Fylde - Kirkham
Lancaster - Rural North Lancaster
Preston - Preston North
Preston- Preston West
Wyre - Garstang and surrounding area
Wyre - Poulton-le-Fylde and Staining
Fylde - Lytham St Anne's
Hyndburn - Great Harwood and Rishton
Lancaster - Lancaster City
Lancaster - Silverdale and Yealand
Pendle - Barnoldswick
South Ribble - Leyland
South Ribble - Penwortham
South Ribble - Walton-le-Dale, Bamber Bridge and Samlesbury
West Lancashire - Parbold and Wrightington
Wyre - Calder Vale & Claughton
Wyre - Fleetwood
Lancaster - Carnforth
Lancaster - Morecambe and Heysham
Hyndburn - Accrington
West Lancashire - Scarisbrick and Downholland
West Lancashire - Skelmersdale
SECONDARY SCHOOL PLACE DEMAND
Split by district, these are the locations where there is the most and least demand for primary school places in Lancashire.
WHAT'S IN THE PIPELINE?
These are the county council's medium and long-term plans for extra school places:
***An additional 70 places proposed from September 2022 at location(s) to be confirmed.
***An additional 60 places proposed from September 2022 at location(s) to be confirmed following ongoing discussions with headteachers.
***New primary school sites have been secured at the Whyndyke Farm development and at Queensway.
***New primary school sites or expansions are being sought at developments in North Lancaster, East Lancaster, Bailrigg Garden Village and South Carnforth.
***A new secondary school site is being sought in conjunction with the Bailrigg Garden Village development, subject to future demand for places and the pace of development of this site.
***Colne Primet Academy - temporary increase in the admission number from 165 to 210, for one year, from September 2022. To become permanent in 2023, subject to academy consultation and ESFA approval.
***SS John Fisher and Thomas More Roman Catholic High School - temporary increase in the admission number from 160 to 180 places, for one year, from September 2022. To become permanent in 2023.
***Two sites requested as part of North West Preston Masterplan and schools secured as part of the Cottam Hall and Whittingham Hospital housing developments.
***Fulwood Academy - 60 new places possible from September 2024 following a temporary increase of 20 additional year 7 places in September 2022.
***A new secondary site in the North West Preston Masterplan area.
***An additional 60 places proposed from September 2023, pending ongoing discussion with Ribble Valley headteachers.
***Seeking to secure education contributions for a potential new school site or expansion to existing schools in conjunction with the strategic development at Edenfield
***Site secured as part of the Leyland Test Track housing development and a new site is being sought in the Penwortham area.
***New primary school sites are being sought in the Garstang area, Thornton Cleveleys, Great Eccleston and Poulton-Le-Fylde to address demand from new housing.
***Education contributions are being sought for existing secondary school expansions in conjunction with multiple developments in Wyre.
Source: Lancashire County Council School Place Provision Strategy (2022-2025)