North Somerset facing 'school crisis' with places set to run out in next 3 years
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 September 2017
A schools 'crisis' is looming in North Somerset, as secondary school places are set to run out in the next three years prompting fears there is 'no plan B'.
With thousands of homes set to be built over the next few years, an estimated 2,000 children could be without a school by 2022 as it stands – and the council may be powerless to do anything about it.
School places could run out in as little as three years, with no plans in motion to build additional schools to cope with the demand.
There are 14,622 school places in North Somerset for 12,401 pupils.
But the number of children needing secondary school places is set to increase to 15,128 by 2020 and 16,602 by 2023, according to new analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA).
Many schools now operate as academies under larger organisations called multi-academy trusts. This means they receive their funding from central Government and are no longer linked with a local authority.
While North Somerset Council is responsible for ensuring there are enough school places, it cannot force academies to expand – but the LGA is asking the Government to give local authorities back this power.
However Weston central ward councillor Mike Bell told the Mercury there needs to be a plan B in place, as the council has no control over whether or not academies in the district will expand to cater for more children.
He said: “There is a real concern secondary academies may be unwilling or unable to grow, and then what is plan B?
“Government funding for school places and basic needs work has been squeezed and councils do not have the power to force academies to expand.
“There needs to be a clear commitment from the Government to address these issues and a long-term strategy from the council to deliver the school places we need for our growing community.”
Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “If we are to avoid this looming secondary school places crisis, councils need to be able to force existing academy schools to expand if voluntary agreement is impossible and must be given back powers to open new maintained schools themselves.”
A spokesman for the council insisted work is being done to increase the amount of school places.
They said: “We will work with all secondary academies providing for pupils in North Somerset with the aim of commissioning sufficient places to meet demand.
“This work has already started and at the moment we are funding additional secondary-place projects in Portishead and Weston.
“From September next year there will be an additional 72 places per year group available.”
But even with these additional school places there would still be no places for 146 pupils in 2020 based on the LGA’s projections.
The council spokesman added: “Further plans for additional places will form part of our new commissioning strategy which we will be consulting on next year.”