Falling birth rate in Blackpool could mean less primary schools are needed

The council has to plan ahead to provide the right number of school places
The council has to plan ahead to provide the right number of school places
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Primary schools in Blackpool could face closure in years to come after a new report predicted falling birth rates will reduce demand for places.

Experts forecast that in eight years' time surplus capacity of school places in the primary sector will have reached 14 per cent compared to the current level of 6.8 per cent.

However demand for places in secondary schools will remain steady as existing large classes of children progress through the education system.

The requirements are set out in Blackpool Council's latest School Organisational Pupil Place plan aimed at ensuring the right number of school places are available to meet demand.

Education chiefs have looked at information including birth rate predictions and house-building expectations to calculate how many school places will be required between 2020 and 2028.

A report to councillors says in the primary sector: "Enough places currently exist, but the forecast reduction in pupil numbers means that there are likely to be too many primary places, particularly in the south of the town. "

Numbers look set to decrease over the coming years, with a forecast of 1,511 reception year pupils in 2027/28 compared to 1,858 available places, a surplus of 347.

It means the council will object to any requests to increase primary provision, while school bosses have been asked to reduce the number of pupils they admit into each year group, especially where there is three-form entry.

The report warns if schools do not act voluntarily than "other solutions will be considered, including the possible closure of one or more schools".

Statistics including future birth rates and the number of youngsters expected to move into the resort have been taken into account in preparing the plan.

Figures from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) show Blackpool’s population of primary aged children looks set to peak in 2019/20

before reducing.

A report to be considered by the council's executive committee when it meets on Monday says: "The projected fall in the birth rate in coming years would mean that a 'do nothing' approach would leave a significant surplus of primary pupil places in Blackpool.

"While a certain level of surplus places is desirable to facilitate parental choice, such a level of excess could be detrimental to the financial feasibility of some schools.

"By taking a strategic, planned approach, the required reduction in places can hopefully be managed across a number of schools, thus avoiding the closure of any schools."

Meanwhile there will be a gradual rise in the number of secondary aged pupils to a peak in 2026/27.

Year 7 numbers are likely to increase until 2025, partly due to new houses built in Blackpool and on its border bringing additional families to the town, and as peak numbers of primary age children move to secondary schools.

This could lead to a shortage of Year 7 places for one or more years, before numbers start to go down again.

To alleviate this, existing space in schools would be used ahead of building new classrooms, while secondary schools have been invited to indicate if they

could manage a temporary increase in Year 7 admission numbers during the

academic years 2023/24 to 2026/27, particularly in the north and central of the town.

The report warns that unless demand is managed in this way, it could "result in a situation whereby some Blackpool pupils would be left without a place at a secondary school".

Planning for pupil places is one of the council's statutory duties and takes into account factors such as birth rate, migration, transience and new homes.

The previous plan, for 2015/20 identified a shortfall in secondary places which has been addressed by the opening of the Armfield Academy in South Shore.

There are currently around 19,000 young people in Blackpool requiring a school place, including 11,779 primary school places and 6,173 secondary school places (not including special schools).

Around 3,200 new homes are expected to be built in Blackpool by 2026/27.

Also taken into account in the plan is the number of pupils attending schools in neighbouring boroughs which are part of Lancashire County Council's education authority.

The report also warns: "Lancashire predict rising secondary pupil numbers in Wyre and the Fylde, which will reduce place availability in these areas for

Blackpool families."

The executive is being recommended to approve the plan and to support working with schools to ensure admission levels continue to match demand.