Councillors last night (Tuesday, 9 September) agreed a programme to provide the equivalent of four new secondary schools in the borough by 2020.
Current projections suggest the need for up to 29.5 new forms of entry for secondary school students to meet growing demand for places over the next five years, due to an increased birth rate, migration and more families choosing to live in the area.
Councillors agreed a new expansion programme, and considered a range of different scenarios to meet the demand for places, at an estimated cost of between £14 million and £112 million.
Cllr Tom Bruce, cabinet member for education and children’s services at the council, said: “Our secondary schools are incredibly popular among local parents, and we face a tremendous amount of pressure to meet the demand for places over the next few years.
“Simply expanding existing schools wouldn’t create enough spaces to meet demand and due to current government policy we are unable to build fully local authority controlled schools, so we do need to consider other options including new academies and free schools.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m confident that we are doing all we can to make sure we are ready to provide a place for every child.”
Recent feasibility studies have shown that existing secondary schools could be expanded to provide an additional 23.5 forms of entry, meaning other options need to be explored to meet demand.
A decision from the Department for Education about applications for two new secondary free schools is expected in March. These could potentially provide up to 12 new forms of entry, which would mean a less intensive expansion programme for existing schools.
The expansion programme also identifies the need for an additional seven forms of entry for primary school places by 2020. The proposals to meet this are through two new free schools and the expansion of Wellington Primary School by two forms of entry, which councillors agreed to begin consulting on later this month.
Further plans to meet the demand for places for children with special educational needs will be going to cabinet later in the year.