The issue of funding in education is currently high on everyone's/ the political agenda at the moment, both nationally and within Wokingham Borough, with many schools facing the challenge of ever-tightening budgets. Do you agree that given the current financial situation in schools maintaining surplus places could be considered a considerable, and uneconomical, financial burden?
Schools funding is an issue that is very close to my heart and I continue to press central Government Ministers, the Secretary of State for Education and local MPs to listen to the local challenges and specific issues that our schools are facing with current funding levels and they will face under the Fairer Funding Formula if it is implemented in its current form. Indeed I will be meeting with the Secretary of State for Education very shortly to discuss this very subject and there will be a full debate on this topic next week at full Council so if you are available please come along.
One of the most pressing challenges in Wokingham that we have faced over the last decade has been to ensure that there are sufficient places to make sure that all of our children in this Borough can be allocated a local school place.
A small percentage of surplus capacity is necessary to ensure places are available for families moving into the Borough to allow parental preference and to have some real and practical effect.
Simplistically we cannot meet this statutory duty or family requirements without any surplus capacity; particularly given Infant Class Size legislation limiting infant class size to no more than 30 pupils.
Too high a level of surplus places can be difficult for schools to manage so the recommendation not to proceed with the Aldryngton expansion this year will help guard against the risk that the other six Earley schools might be placed in this situation in the future.
In the course of expansion discussions Children’s Services and local Councillors have stated that the Aldryngton expansion is necessary in order to provide places for children who move into the catchment area during the school year. As funding is provided on a per pupil basis it is surely good financial management for schools to fill all available places at the start of the academic year in order to maximise their budgets. In addition to this Aldryngton is an outstanding school and has successfully offered places to out of catchment children in all but two of the last 30 years. As a result this has left no room for children who move into catchment mid-year. As a popular and extremely successful school this is always going to be the case regardless of how many additional places are created through expansion. As for example in April 2016 after the national offer day for primary school places 55 out of catchment children were placed on the waiting list for Aldryngton Primary School. Do you therefore agree that expanding the school will not address the issue of creating school places for children moving into catchment during the school year as any available spaces are likely to have already been filled by out of catchment children?
We are by recommending for expansion, with all of these schools and four were within these proposals and three are recommended tonight for expansion, we not only look for the initial admissions round, which is in September, but also in-year places as well because the Government recommends that we have 5% surplus of places. We try to get them spread equally around the Borough because there is a lot of movement and particularly within Wokingham Borough there is a significant amount of movement in and out of the Borough.
This year there will be a very, very, small amount of surplus potentially at Aldryngton but if there are any children who qualify for places over the next few weeks, because they are children in care for example, then that very small headroom at the moment will be taken up straight away.
I would like to see an even spread of extra capacity so that when children and families move in it is not difficult to instantly get a school place locally so that they are not having to travel significant distances. Throughout the year I get a number of e-mails in particular hotspots throughout the Borough from families who may get one child into one school but they cannot get a child into another school and it means that perhaps one partner is having to think about changing their job or stopping work altogether. So whilst I understand that there is the wish perhaps not to have any headroom of space and therefore it is perhaps easier for schools to budget that way my recommendation, I think, is to have a very small amount of headroom meeting the Government’s recommendation of 5% throughout the whole Borough. But it is very hard to plan and get that evenly spread and at the moment with certain trends in certain areas we don’t always meet it.