SCHOOLS: Council must plan places

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Since Morpeth Conservatives unearthed serious flaws in the council’s school place forecasts, the Northumberland Labour group has taken to the internet. It should learn the lesson ‘when you are in a hole, stop digging’.

In one Facebook post it says: “Why would anyone build an additional school? There’s not a shortage of spaces.”

This despite even the council’s previous, underestimating model predicting a significant shortfall starting as early as next year, with 48 middle school places too few. This is before the projected extra 3,000 houses in the schools partnership area are built.

The Labour group seems to fail to understand what a projection is. It relies on the fact that there was enough spaces (just) last year, rather than look at projections of future numbers.

It seems to think that the council is not responsible for school place planning or the provision of new spaces. It is frightening to think that these people are responsible for planning education provision in Northumberland, but it is their legal duty under Section 14 of the Education Act 1996.

Labour may be hoping that the existing academy comes to its salvation and volunteers to create new places.

However, if and when a council identifies an upcoming shortage of places it must do one of two things — see to it that existing schools are expanded to meet demand, or seek proposals to build a new free school. If the council cannot find a third party willing to run the new school then it is entitled to open a state school.

Unfortunately, its apparent lack of understanding does not end there.

The group says that the impending shortage of places in the Morpeth catchment area is irrelevant because non-catchment kids currently make up about 20 per cent of the school population. Wrong again, on two counts.

Firstly, current admission policies favour continuity of education over catchment area, i.e if a child is already in a Morpeth partnership first school they will be preferred when moving up to middle and high schools over children moving into the catchment.

Secondly, the analysis shows that the partnership middle schools will be more than 30 per cent over-subscribed and the high school more than 38 per cent over-subscribed.

Our offer to help the council to create an effective forecasting model remains open and we would be delighted to help it produce a coherent plan that parents can trust.

Johnny Wearmouth

Morpeth Conservatives