Schools in danger of running out of space for new pupils

First day at Gateway Academy, Seymour Rd., Blackpool.Reception teacher Hayley Duckworth with Jayden-Shaw Whitfield and Sam Brown, at the interactive table-top computer.

First day at Gateway Academy, Seymour Rd., Blackpool.Reception teacher Hayley Duckworth with Jayden-Shaw Whitfield and Sam Brown, at the interactive table-top computer.

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Classrooms places in Blackpool could reach breaking point within four years, it was claimed today.

More than 650 new pupils are expected to be placed in the resort’s schools by 2016, which, based on 2012 figures, would send schools over their capacity, according to research released by the Local Government Association.

Town Hall bosses said the research did not take account of new school places created this year – but they have admitted central areas of the town are “hotspots for demand” and have drawn up a string of plans to cope with growing numbers, including:

n Building a new secondary school for between 600 and 900 pupils – with the old 
Devonshire Road hospital a potential site.

n Using a fleet of portable cabins as classrooms

n Encouraging more people to apply to schools on the 
outskirts of Blackpool

According to the LGA figures, schools in the town will be running at 107 per cent capacity in the next four years

In an email seen by The Gazette, Carl Baker, Blackpool Council’s assistant chief executive for property, says: “In the medium term a key priority for my team will be to manage the transfer of primary pupils to secondary and we will certainly require at least another 600-900 place secondary school nearer to the centre of town.

“This is something of a challenge as we will require a site and circa £15m.”

Now Tory representatives have warned Blackpool Council’s current Labour administration to “put down building blocks now” to create extra room at schools in the resort.

Mr Baker’s email, which was sent to Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams and Tory councillor Coun Tony Lee, also stated: “We do remain at maximum capacity and now lack both the capital and additional sites for further expansion especially in central wards.

“What is worrying for the council is that projections do not account for demographic changes like housing growth and transience which will impact south and central wards in the next few years.

“The task this year is to encourage more applications to schools on the periphery of the town in an attempt to ‘massage’ demand in the town centre. If we require further primary capacity then we have a fleet of portable cabins.”

A number of factors were used to calculate the predictions such as the number of children approaching school age and birth rates.

Coun Williams says potential sites should be explored across the town to try and abate any future issues, rather than the possibility of portable cabins being installed in oversubscribed schools.

He said: “It is a serious concern. I really do think we should be prudent enough to start looking at what buildings we’ve got that are available in Blackpool. It’s quite clear that we’re going to have an overflow and portable cabins are not an ideal situation for a stable learning environment. We need ti start looking at this now.”

And Coun Lee, Waterloo ward councillor, has suggested the site of the former Arnold School, on Lytham Road, South Shore, could be used to increase classroom capacity.

But Coun Sarah Riding, the council’s cabinet member responsible for education, said the Local Government Association’s figures do not take into account 1,050 extra primary school places created after the opening of the new £5m Gateway Academy, in South Shore, and new classrooms built at Unity College and Mereside Primary School.

She said funding would need to be found to find any new sites and portable cabins would only be introduced in “desperate” situations.

She added: “One of the possibilities we are looking at is the possibility of a new school in that central area.

“If we could get that and get the money I think that would be fantastic, but we can’t build on thin air.

“It would be lovely but the reality is we’ve got to recognise we’re going to have to make more cuts. We have to be responsible because we have a lot of transients so our population fluctuates.

“We monitor it very closely.”

Andrew Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas Primary School and Blackpool branch secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says he sympathises with the difficulties the council faces.

There are currently around 390 pupils at St Nicholas, which has a capacity of 420 and currently takes pupils from as far afield as North Shore, Lytham and Kirkham.

Mr Mellor said: “I have some sympathy for the local authority because they’re responsible to meet the school places need.

“They could spend five, six or seven million pounds on a new school but then find the birth rates change.

“It may be that (portable cabins) are the solution, but it’s a difficult business.”

Neil Hodgkins, headteacher at Devonshire Primary School, on the edge of the town centre, said: “We’re full but because of the mobility issue in Blackpool we have comings and goings.

“We don’t like to be under-subscribed because that has a knock-on effect for staff.”