Leadership is key to solving Leeds school places problems

Kellie Halliday, headteacher of Hovingham Primary School in Leeds. PIC: Simon Hulme
Kellie Halliday, headteacher of Hovingham Primary School in Leeds. PIC: Simon Hulme
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Demand for primary school places in Leeds has hit a 15-year high. Today, one inner city headteacher speaks out on the issue.

Kellie Halliday doesn’t really care who builds the new schools and school places needed to meet rising demand in our city.
She just wants the right people in place running them, to ensure every child gets an excellent - and equal - learning experience.

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Mrs Halliday is headteacher of Hovingham Primary School in Harehills.

When she arrived there from a school in North Yorkshire in 2014, it was achieving just 34 per cent at Key Stage 2. That rose to 59 per cent within a year, and is now on track to reach 66 per cent.

Hovingham has 530 pupils who speak 52 languages between them. The pupil numbers will rise by 60 after Easter when the school opens it doors to a new ‘bulge cohort’ of children who will be temporarily placed there while permanent places are found for them,

The school will also accept 90 new permanent admissions from this September. Mrs Halliday is aware of the boiling point pressure on school places in the city, but she is unfazed. “I am sure that if we dig deep, we could take 120 more,” she said.

The YEP reported yesterday that demand for primary school places in the city has hit a 15 year high and, a month before allocations are announced, 750 extra places for this year are still being finalised,

The politicising of the schools debate is becoming ever more acute, especially after the Government’s announcement of plans to turn all schools into a academies. It’s a wider debate Mrs Halliday largely wants to steer clear of.

But she is clear that over-emphasis on what defines a ‘good’ school - and the creation of often artificial performance measures which can confuse parents - is muddying discussions and making the scrabble for places more and more intense.

“All schools should be ‘good’ in an ideal world,” she said. “If you take the numbers and the politics out of it, it actually comes down to ‘what is our core purpose?’

“I personally don’t think it’s about the politics of free schools, academies and who builds the school. If you haven’t got the right leadership, then it’s all going to fall down anyway.”

LEEDS PRIMARY SCHOOL PLACES CRISIS: IN NUMBERS

10,542 - Projected total demand for new starter places in Leeds this September (includes Leeds-born children and people moving into city):

750 - New places being created this year in Leeds to meet increasing demand

7,500 - ‘birth cohort’ for primary school places in 2001 (Numbers have been going up ever since, although there was a small fall last year and another is expected next year)

1,400 - additional primary school places created in Leeds since 2009

April 16 - date this year when primary school offers will be made

85% - of Leeds pupils were offered their first preference last year

93% - offered one of their top five preferences last year

9,854 places allocated on offer day in 2015

£67.1m - Leeds City Council’s funding gap for providing all the required places itself:

Amount of grant from Government per pupil place last year: £11,300 (primary) and £14,200 (secondary)

7 - free schools currently operating in Leeds

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