Predictions show town will be 800 school places short
A CRISIS of secondary school places in Swindon has prompted a public consultation over how to deal with the predicted shortfall.
Estimates based on births and new housing developments suggest by 2026 there will be a shortfall of more than 800 places across the town.
And solutions will be put to residents, including new school builds, school expansions, or commuting to schools around Wiltshire.
But because all secondary schools in Swindon are academies and out of council control, they could not be forced to expand, meaning the only feasible options are new builds or relocation.
Chris Walton, educational consultant working with Swindon Council on the project, said: “There is an anticipated shortfall of 27.7 forms of entry, comprising 30 pupils in each, by the year 2026. There is also an estimated shortfall of 5.7 forms of entry by 2018, based on the numbers of pre-school children coming through at the moment.
“After the consultation has taken place, cabinet members will be authorised to request local MPs to provide additional funding to meet the forecasted demand for secondary school places in Swindon.
“We will be proposing different options with estimated costs for each. It could be new school builds, school expansions, or relocating children to out of borough schools, including Bradon Forest and Royal Wootton Bassett Academy.
“We could build new free schools funded by the Department for Education, or accept Swindon Borough Council will have to foot the bill, which may involve some extra borrowing.
“Reliance on out-of-borough schools has the great advantage of decreasing costs in Swindon because we have got ready made places elsewhere. If it becomes clear residents would prefer all the places to be in Swindon, that has a cost implication.”
Plans to set up Swindon’s first free school are already underway after a meeting last month at Isambard Community School.
Rachel Mattey, headteacher of Isambard Community School, said: “I am really disappointed that the council think relocating children is a good idea, because it is like putting money on a bus and sending it out of Swindon. A better idea would be to keep pupils in Swindon and keep the funding here.
“There are huge issues in expanding schools, because many schools have no room to do so. The secondary schools are all academies and the council will not be able to force them to expand.”
MPs have suggested the expansion could be funded from a £5bn pot set aside by the government to boost school places.
Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, said: “Having been a northern sector councillor for 10 years, I know what a vital issue this is and it is fantastic that the council is being proactive as new schools take time to plan and build.
“I will be doing all I can to support this and I welcome that the government has released an additional £5bn to fund new places.”
The consultation period in schools will run from October 10 in Lydiard Park Academy to November 14 in The Commonweal School. The results will then be reported back to cabinet in February 2014, and potential new build sites will go for planning approval by July.