At yesterday’s Cabinet, the Pupil Place Planning Strategy was approved unanimously by my fellow Cabinet colleagues. The strategy sets out the main challenges Cornwall is facing in meeting demand for school places.
The Council has a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient numbers of school places to meet demand. However, it is the Government who actually funds this, which is sometime problematic in trying to balance demand, with the actual funding given to the Council. The is further complicated because future capital funding for new and expanding schools is not guaranteed either.
It is no surprise the greatest demand for school places is currently at primary level, with an increase of – 36,319 pupils in September 2009 to 38,630 in September 2014 – more than 2,000 pupils (20%) in five years. The January 2015 school census showed that 50 (21%) of primary schools were operating at or above their net capacity, up from 42 (18%) at the same point in 2014.
The strategy is now only about increased pupil numbers, but dealing with areas where numbers on roll are falling. It will not be a surprise, but this is happening in more rural areas. The strategy sets out the Council’s commitment to provide advice and guidance on the challenges for small schools.
As I said earlier, funding is key for a school place strategy to work in the past, the Government did give Cornwall £7.8m for Targeted Basic Need (TBN), but as previous blogs highlighted, this was not enough to deliver the extra 840 places required. This resulted in the Council having to find the other monies because the true cost of delivering the school spaces was £12m. The TBN schemes are:
- Indian Queens Primary School – 120 permanent places
- Mount Hawke Academy – 90 permanent places
- Nanpean Community Primary School – 120 permanent places
- St Columb Minor Academy – 90 permanent places
- St Petroc’s Academy – 90 permanent places
- The Bishops’ CE Primary School – 90 permanent places
- Treleigh Community Primary School – 120 permanent places
After the TBN disappointment, the Government did award £31 under the Basic Need (BN) programme for 2015/18. This will help address the issue of school places. The schools in scope for the BN expansion are:
- Biscovey Primary School – 30 permanent places
- Charlestown Primary School – 180 permanent places
- Cubert Primary School – 60 permanent places
- Luxulyan Primary School – 30 permanent places
- Pondhu Primary School – 90 permanent places
- Rosemellin Primary School – 90 permanent places
- St Agnes Primary School – 210 permanent places
- St Teath Primary School – 30 permanent places
- Stratton Primary School – 90 permanent places
- Tregolls Academy – 210 permanent places
- Trewirgie Infant School – 30 permanent places
The pressure on primary school places is now beginning to impact on secondary levels in 2016/17. Although there are currently over 5,000 surplus places at secondary level, there are pockets of pressure in certain areas. Bodmin and Wadebridge are the only towns currently experiencing serious capacity issues and options appraisals and/or feasibility studies in relation to expansion are currently underway at both schools. Feasibility studies will also be completed for Saltash.net Community School and Richard Lander School in Truro in order to mitigate short to medium terms pressure which are partly dependent on housing build rate.
Future expansion options are being worked up and including the above projects, the authority has commissioned design consultants to assess the ability for schools to expand across 21 town and rural community network areas in Cornwall. These schools will form part of an options appraisal process which will demonstrate which schools are able to expand and may then progress to full site feasibility. Though how many come forward will be dependent on how much the Government makes available in funding.
The strategy also sets out how the Local Education Authority (LEA) will work with planning officer to make sure larger developments have adequate section 106 funding to mitigate the impact of new homes on school places.
The current education funding element of the Section 106 is £2,736 per qualifying dwelling. This excludes affordable housing as no contribution is due. The Education Funding Agency (EFA) base their costing on £8,500 per places, but in reality in Cornwall, the true cost is anything from £13,000 per place.
Other parts of the strategy include; SEN capital funding, School Loan Scheme, maintenance capital funding, and how schools access their own funding.
On the issue of school maintenance funding, I want to give insight on the scale of the issue we have in Cornwall on the lack of maintenance funding awarded to Cornwall. If you exclude academy schools, we have a maintenance backlog in our schools totalling in excess of £90m, but only having £4m/5m award per year to tackle this backlog.
Even though I have highlighted many of the concerns I have in dealing with school places, the need for adequate funding for both new and expanding schools, and school maintenance funding, I am proud of the work that has gone into this strategy. This is the first strategy of its kind in Cornwall, and those who worked to make this strategy a reality should be very proud of the work contained within. Well done.