Request reveals ‘big school-places deficit’

Conservative county council candidate for Kirkhill in the May 2017 elections, Richard Wearmouth.
Conservative county council candidate for Kirkhill in the May 2017 elections, Richard Wearmouth.

Morpeth is facing a major deficit in school places in the years ahead, it has been claimed.

Morpeth Conservatives submitted a Freedom of Information request to Northumberland County Council for its forecasts on availability and its plan to deal with a situation where the number of children is more than the capacity of the town’s schools.

The group says there were errors in the local authority’s model, such as ‘forgetting that children go up a school year every year’ and ‘not accounting for all the new houses that are being given permission in the area’.

When they are ‘corrected’, the forecasts are for a deficit of 666 school places by 2023 and 977 by 2031. If the council gives permission for about 200 houses at County Hall, this number reaches 1,036.

In response, the authority says that the group has shown a ‘misunderstanding’ of the issue because more than a fifth of places at Morpeth schools are currently taken up by children who live outside catchment areas and the children of new residents in the Morpeth area would have first priority.

Conservative county council candidate for Kirkhill in the May 2017 elections, Richard Wearmouth, said: “The data suggests that the Morpeth Partnership Area will need the equivalent of a new middle school almost two-thirds the size of Chantry and a new high school about a third the size of KEVI.

“We’ve shared our findings with the council and offered to work with it to produce a better model and, more importantly, work out how the new school places can be provided.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “The statements made show a misunderstanding of the issues around school places.

“There is sufficient spare capacity within Morpeth schools. At present, however, because they are so popular, around 22 per cent of places are taken up by children who live outside catchment areas.

“If and when new houses are built, the children of residents will have first priority for the spare places that are available – in line with admissions policies.”