Leeds Council warns it faces £67m funding shortfall to create school places city needs

Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds.''Councillor Lucinda Yeadon
Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds.''Councillor Lucinda Yeadon
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COUNCIL bosses warn that Leeds is facing a funding shortfall of more than £65 million in order to create the extra places needed in primary and secondary schools over the next three years.

After a decade of rising birth rates the city could see the numbers starting primary school reach a peak of more than 10,000 next September.

This means the equivalent of 25 extra reception classes will be needed next year alone.

And Leeds City Council officials believe they will need to create an extra four secondary schools over the next three years.

Primary places have been a major issue in the North of Leeds this year with a parents group staging a high profile campaign after claiming more than 80 people in their neighbourhoods missed out on any of their choices of school.

After National Offer Day 90 more places were found at three primaries in the city to resolve the issue for the majority of Fair Access Group campaigners for this September.

However the council confirmed talks are already underway with schools across the city with a larger new cohort expected in 2016.

Leeds council bosses said finding and funding these places was a major challenge but they were adamant this challenge would be met.

A decade of rising birth rates means the size of school year groups has gone from the 7,000 pupils who have just finished year 11 in secondary school to 10,350 expected to start primary school next September.

Critics have pointed to a raft of school closures carried out by the council more than a decade ago as a reason for the current pressure.

However Vivienne Buckland, head of learning systems at the council said that at the time the city had 10,000 spare places in the schools system.

Paul Brennan, Leeds Council’s deputy director of children’s services said: “The extra numbers needed over ten years will be the equivalent of accommodating all of the children in York on top of what we already have in Leeds.”

An extra 1,328 places have been created since 2009.

However more will be needed in the next three years - and the council say the Basic Need funding it has been allocated by the Government will leave it at least £67.8m short.

Mr Brennan said: “It is a challenge but it is our responsibility to find these places and they will be found. We were always going to find the extra places needed in North Leeds this year but they were just not found until after National Offer Day.”

He said the events of this year had made it easier for the council to convince schools of the need for more places in future years.

Coun Lucinda Yeadon, the council’s executive member for children’s services said she believed councils should be able to open up their own community schools and also have a greater input into where free schools are located.

The council is currently only able to run a competition to open an academy but is not allowed to set up its own schools.

It also is not involved in where new autonomous state funded free schools are located.

The Labour councillor said: “I had a meeting with a group of parents about places and found it ironic that the council has the responsibility for finding school places across the city but that I was the person sat around the table least likely to be able to set up a new school.”

Leeds Council’s children’s services director Nigel Richardson has told the authority’s Children’s Services scrutiny board that it is time to act now over school places to and safeguard the future not just of the city’s next generation, but of the city itself.

“Leeds is growing and will continue to grow but it has to grow in a way that allows it to support the best interests and improve the life chances of the next generation,” Mr Richardson said. “That’s where the regeneration of the city and the economy becomes sustainable in the future. There’s nothing more important than getting this right. This goes way beyond children’s services. This is a challenge for us as a council in terms of leadership and for the city as whole...it’s a collective responsibility.”

‘SCRAP THIS ABSURD LAW AND DROP THE RHETORIC’

Experts say a combination of “absurd” legislation preventing councils building new schools, and a proliferation of politically biased rhetoric, is making the school places crisis “increasingly urgent”.

Rhoda Andruchow, regional officer for the National Union of Teachers, said: “Under legislation passed by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition since 2010, the only body with the statutory duty to provide places and the knowledge of pupil numbers - the local authority (LA) - cannot open new schools in areas where they are needed.

“They also cannot prevent the opening of schools where they are not needed.

“Free schools can be opened anywhere in the country irrespective of the level of demand or need for places, as long as the secretary of State approves them. There is nothing LAs like Leeds can do.

“This absurd legislation should be reversed and LAs permitted to build and run new community schools as necessary.”

Ty Goddard, co-founder of The Education Foundation, a school think tank, said the “squeeze on school places” was an “increasingly urgent” issue.

“It is crucial that organisations and political parties work together to seek a solution,” he said.

“We need our leaders, nationally and locally, to put political differences aside and work with a renewed sense of purpose, partnership, and speed to rise to the challenge of the schools places crisis.”

LEEDS SCHOOL PLACES - IN NUMBERS

1,328: Primary school places created in Leeds since 2009 from the Basic Needs expansions programme

600: estimated additional primary school places needed to meet current birth rate

5: Free schools now operating in Leeds

£11,300: Amount per additional primary school place provided to Leeds City Council by the Government

£16,340: Actual cost to Leeds City Council of providing a single new primary school place in a new-build school

£8,770: Average cost to council of one new school place (primary or secondary)

PLANS: Gipton Juniors training at Fearnville Leisure Centre where the new school was proposed to be built.

New Leeds free school proposals put on hold over field objections