Thursday, November 02, 2006

School places

Interesting discussion on school places today at the education scrutiny committee which I chair.

Some of the statistics are misleading. In short Perry Barr ward has 156 surplus places at its five primary schools. That is fairly average and not a cause for alarm - although it can make life a little tough for governing bodies which cannot fill all their places. But we are sandwiched between a number of suburbs where school numbers are dropping quite fast and inner city wards where there is pressure on places. Oscott ward has nearly 200 surplus places, most of those in one school in Kingstanding.

The figures for secondary school are not easy to make sense of although they do give some indication of demand for school places. For instances Great Barr School, technically, has 317 more pupils than it has space for while Perry Beeches has (or had) 14 spare places.

If school numbers fall it can become hard for governors to balance budgets. But if schools are closed, a surplus of places may rapidly become a shortage. So the city's policy now is to avoid school closures so far as possible as there are frequently other steps that can be taken to improve viability.

As a city Birmingham is in an unusual situation in that the birth rate has risen dramatically in the last four years. That means a new primary school in the inner city and extra places when many of the secondary schools are rebuilt.

I'm currently in the throes of completing a report on the admissions system and parents are being consulted about what they think of the way it works. Although we (the council's scrutiny department) have distributed some 1,000 surveys scientifically, you can submit your own views on-line. The on-line survey will be available for a few more days, so hurry if you have any comments.

Jon Hunt

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