Primary schools face over crowded future

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LOCAL primary schools are set to face huge problems as new figures demonstrate certain schools in east London will be 20 per cent over capacity within three years.

The Local Government Association’s analysis of local authority data on school place needs suggests 1,000 of the 2,277 local school planning districts will be over capacity by 2015-2016. In 99 of these, 20 per cent more places are needed in classrooms to accommodate a growing young population.

One area where primary schools are being hit particularly hard by the combination of a baby boom and rising immigration is Barking and Dagenham, which at current rates will be 21 per cent over capacity by 2016.

2011 census figures for the Borough show there has been an increase of almost 50 per cent in those aged four and under from 2001 to 2011, meaning that now 10 per cent of the Borough’s population are younger than four-years-old. This constitutes the largest growth for this age group of any local authority in England and Wales.

Additionally, at 31 per cent the Borough has the highest proportion of people aged 19 and under in the country. The census also highlights that there has been a huge increase in those born abroad, from 18,831 in 2001 to 57,447 in 2011 – a rise of 205 per cent.

All of this culminates in Barking and Dagenham having the highest increase of school-age people in London – a region which itself has seen growth five times that of the national average. For example, when schools went back this month in the Borough there were 1,100 more pupils starting in Reception than left Year 6.

Barking and Dagenham, already home to six of the 10 largest primary schools in the country, has begun implementing coping measures to counteract these massive population increases – including expanding 70 per cent of its 47 primary schools. The Borough is also utilising temporary accommodation and introducing ‘bulge’ classes – larger one-off Reception classes, to cope with the demand.

However, council officials know that these measures are not doing enough.

It is understood that Barking and Dagenham Council requires £50 million a year for the next 10 years (totalling half a billion) in order to create enough school places, however as yet they have only been promised £28million spread over the next two years by the Department for Education.

Cllr Rocky Gill, deputy Council leader and cabinet member for finance, told the Enquirer: “There were 60 per cent more births in 2011 than in 2001, combined with financial pressures causing families to move from inner London into the outer boroughs and re-generation creating more family homes – it is clear Barking and Dagenham has a huge problem.

“It’s got to the stage now where we’re running out of options, but building schools is an expensive enterprise so we’re considering building on land we already own such as green areas and industrial sites.

“We’ve also started to think about sweating the asset with a split-shift school system – whereby half of pupils will go to school 8am-6pm Monday-Wednesday and the other half Thursday-Saturday.

“Details need to be ironed out but we are looking at rolling out this
kind of system in some schools from September 2014.”

Neighbouring Havering Borough can expect a more conservative, yet still worrying, 10 per cent over capacity by 2016.

The Council is already trying to remedy the problem and steps taken so far include expanding 11 schools and introducing a total of 720 new places for September 2014.

Havering’s Cllr Paul Rochford, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “All local children requiring a place for this September at a Havering primary school have one and we are working closely with headteachers to ensure we can continue to provide enough places in the future, where they are most needed.”

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