Guest column: Work is underway to create hundreds of new school places

Coun Philip Owen, children and young persons committee chairman at Nottinghamshire County Council
Coun Philip Owen, children and young persons committee chairman at Nottinghamshire County Council

The County Council is wasting no time planning ahead when it comes to creating the extra 1,400 school places that will be needed across Nottinghamshire.

Now a new term has started, the council is undertaking studies to decide where it is feasible for it to create nearly 1,400 additional school places in areas of Nottinghamshire where demand is expected to outstrip supply.

Many of these additional places will be needed for the 2018-19 academic year.

The studies include additional secondary school places where a ‘bulge’ is beginning to be felt following a surge in the demand for places at primary school first seen four years ago.

As well as nearly 600 additional primary places needed across Ashfield, Bassetlaw and Rushcliffe during 2018-19, projections show us that 800 more secondary school places will be needed in Newark and Sherwood and Rushcliffe over the next two to five years.

These feasibility studies will identify if the proposed expansion of specific existing schools is deliverable, appropriate and represents good value for money so the council can make fully informed decisions.

Members of our children and young people’s committee gave the go ahead for this action before Christmas.

I must stress that this is only currently at the feasibility stage and that some of the potential targets may fall by the wayside or be substituted if they don’t prove to be viable.

We know from experience that it’s a better use of public funds to invest time and money exploring the suitability of proposals at an early stage rather than spending more on abortive planning and design costs which would be incurred without proper feasibility being carried out.

The cost of meeting this demand for additional school places will be around £20 million and will be provided through the Government’s Basic Need fund.

Once feasibility studies have been completed in the early part of 2018, the council will work with the schools and academies to secure the places required.

Between 2013 and 2016, the council spent approximately £70 million of the Basic Need allocation to create more than 5,500 additional permanent primary school places to meet demand.

The growth in the pupil population is now being felt in the secondary sector and approximately half of the £20 million Basic Need allocation is likely to be spent on this phase.