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Staffordshire needs thousands more school places to meet demand

Staffordshire will need thousands more school places by 2033 to meet growing demand in the county, it has been revealed.

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Staffordshire County Council's Stafford headquarters

New schools are set to be built in Stafford, Tamworth, East Staffordshire and Lichfield in the coming years, with an estimated 5,300 mainstream primary and 2,700 mainstream secondary places required within the next decade.

Staffordshire County Council’s latest capital programme for schools was approved by cabinet members at their meeting this month. Councillor Jonathan Price, cabinet member for education and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), told members £56m would be spent on building new schools and maintaining and improving existing facilities over the next 12 months.

He said: “More than £14m will be allocated to improve existing provision for pupils with SEND and more than £32m will be spent on building brand new schools over the next three years to accommodate new housing estates. These include new primary schools in Stafford, Tamworth, East Staffordshire and Lichfield, and an estimated £26.5m new secondary school to be built in Stafford.

“It’s also important to plan for the future and ensure we are building schools that mitigate the rise in demand for school places. Our forward planning has ensured that the overwhelming majority of parents are consistently allocated one of their top choice secondary or primary schools.”

In his statement to Staffordshire County Council’s full meeting this month, authority leader Alan White said that it was good news for families that nine out of 10 parents had been allocated their first choice secondary school for their child to attend in September. He said: “Of the 8,482 offers made for a Staffordshire secondary school at age 11 90.8% per cent were for a first-choice school; the national and regional average is around 83 per cent.

“In fact, nearly 99 per cent have been allocated one of their top three preferred schools. It is great that we have such an excellent track record of being able to allocate well above the national average for first preferences, especially as demand for places increases.”

East Staffordshire Councillor Philip Hudson said: “I want to dismiss the false claims that we seem to get in Uttoxeter that due to the increase in housing we don’t have enough spaces for our children to attend school. I know that the county council monitor the situation through the year, we know how many people are coming to live in Uttoxeter, we know the anticipated spaces for children in the future.”

But Councillor Richard Cox spoke of issues in his area of Lichfield District next to Rugeley, where The Hart School decided to close its Hagley Park site. The school was formed following the merger of Fair Oak Academy and Hagley Park Academy in 2016 and it was agreed with the Department for Education that the capacity of the merged school should be reduced.

A new All Through School is due to be built as part of the redevelopment of the former Rugeley Power Station site. But it is not set to open to pupils until September 2025.

Councillor Cox said: “I’ve got the one out of 10 (parents nor allocated their first choice secondary school) on a number of occasions. It seems to be that for those caring parents, the process fails them – we have to understand and deliver the answers with empathy and sympathy.

“There is a situation which should never have occurred, which I know the county council were objecting to – The Hart School reducing school intake by removing one of their sites. That has had an absolute detrimental effect on the housing estate at Hawksyard, which is adjacent to Rugeley.

“There is an appeals system, I’m urging them to go through that process. But it just seems bad decisions by other parties, in my view, has led to a problem.

“We know we’ve got the All Through School going through. I can advise the council I have been pressing the planning authority and the issues that were with planning are effectively sorted.

“Hopefully by the end of April a decision will be confirmed that we will be pressing ahead. That will resolve things I’m sure, but we can’t afford those delays because before long, with the 2025 intake, we may have the same problem.

“I implore everybody to make this happen to ensure we’re not having this discussion of one in 10 being disappointed. I thank our education department for the difficult work they do trying to place young people into schools that would be the parents’ choice.”

Councillor Mike Sutherland, who represents Rugeley’s Etchinghill and Heath area, responded: “It’s very easy to look for blame and in this case I want to defend Hart School because there isn’t blame. It’s a school that’s creaking at the sides and they have not gone out of their way to be difficult.

“There was an expectation of an All Through School coming on and it will happen. On behalf of Hart School – and I represent that ward – I think it would be totally and utterly unfair to think that they are responsible.”

Councillor Price said “With relation to the Hart School, they have taken on a significant amount of pupils and they expanded with the support of the county council. I really thank them for that.

“The school organisations team and admissions team had identified the potential gap and shortfall of places for children in Rugeley going forward and have actually asked The Hart if they would delay the closure of the second site. Unfortunately they decided to go against our wishes.

“That’s why we find ourselves in the position we’re in. We do have a good relationship with The Hart and they’ve been very supportive to take as many pupils as they possibly can until we do get the Rugeley All Through School open.

“I am pleased to say that with the support of the members, our leader Councillor White and Lichfield District Council we have managed to move forward and it looks like things are progressing well and on schedule. That is good news.”

Councillor Price also highlighted the work taking place to ensure the county had enough school places, including through the capital programme for schools. He said: “You talk about one in 10 not having places, but it’s actually 99% for the top three choices, which is why we ask for three choices.”