From the Chamber: Secondary School Places

8 Mar 2024

1st March every year is the date on which parents are told about Year 7 secondary school places for their children for the following September. This time last year rapid and unpredicted growth in the number of school-age children meant that the council had more than 50 children for whom no place had yet been identified. The Council were confident that we could find a place for every child before September – and we did - but this was a very anxious time for both parents and children.

We were determined not to have the same situation again this year. A lot of work has gone on with local schools and academy trusts over the past months. And I am very pleased to say that on Friday 1st March 2024 we had a secondary school place for every child who had applied. We could not have achieved this without the willingness of schools to expand, or without the co-operation of academy trusts to reach agreements with us. We also would not have achieved it if The Forest School had not made a decision to go co-educational from this September. Their decision was made to secure the future of the school, as they were aware of long-term decline in the number of parents seeking single-sex education for their boys, and it has helped make sure that we have enough places for everyone this year.

We have also increased the percentage of parents who got their first choice of secondary school, and the percentage who got at least one of their 4 choices. There are unfortunately a small number of parents – about 3% or roughly 80 children – who did not get any of the schools they had chosen. We know those parents will be disappointed. We wish we could have met everyone’s preferences, but that is in reality impossible.

The difference between the situation on 1st March 2023 and 1st March 2024 was the result of two things – determination to plan for the long term and a commitment to partnership working. Planning for the long term has meant taking a strategic view of school places rather than lurching from year to year, and that will culminate in a new strategy which will be emerging later this year. A commitment to partnership working has meant building a relationship with schools and academy trusts that will enable us to work together in the interests of the Borough’s children.

You may recognise both planning for the long term and partnership working as featuring in many of these From the Chamber columns over the past 2 years. Both of them are hallmarks of the approach being taken by the Liberal Democrats since we took over as the administration at the Borough Council in May 2022. And the improvement in the situation with regard to secondary school places is evidence to show our approach is working.

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