Harrogate and Knaresborough schools facing 'unrelenting pressures' due to pupil places shortages and rising debts
A worrying picture of shortages in pupil places and spiralling debts has been revealed for some schools in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
North Yorkshire County Council has revealed nearly 700 secondary school places will be needed by 2025 to keep up with demand from new housing and that without action five schools could fall into serious financial trouble with debts totalling £2.7m.
Gary Fielding, corporate director of strategic resources at the county council, described the pressures as "unrelenting" and said that while a falling number of schools were forecasting deficits, those which are could see their debts "take off".
Speaking at a county council meeting on Thursday, he said: "If we are not careful we could very much have a two-tier state of lots of schools which are okay, but others which are in a nosedive.
"Schools do have a habit of projecting much more pessimistic positions and they have also received sizeable increases in funding as of late.
"Nevertheless, they are still under significant pressures and smaller secondary schools will feel this more than others.
"It is very important that we as a council continue to work with those schools and ensure there are plans ahead."
Figures show that by 2025 there could be a shortfall of 623 pupil places at schools including Harrogate Grammar School, Rossett School, Harrogate High School, St John Fisher Catholic High School, St Aidan’s CE High School and Nidderdale High School.
In Knaresborough, there is a projected shortfall of 49 places at King James’s School during the same period.
The demand for places has been blamed on housing developments - particularly in the west of Harrogate - but education bosses say action is being taken to ensure classrooms can accommodate extra students.
A new school with capacity for 420 pupils is being built for Knaresborough's Manse Farm and Highfield Farm housing developments. It has set an opening date of September 2024 and will be run by the Elevate Multi Academy Trust.
Extra classrooms have also been added to Harrogate Grammar School, Rossett School and Killinghall Primary School.
That is according to a report to Thursday's meeting of the Harrogate and Knaresborough Area Constituency Committee which said talks were being held with housebuilders over potential new school sites in the west of the district.
The pressures on schools of stretched budgets and demands for pupil places comes against a backdrop of big disparities in government funding levels which have been described as "unacceptable" by Harrogate councillors.
North Yorkshire is placed 138th out of all 150 local authority areas in England with an average of £5,570 in funding per secondary school pupil compared to the national average of £5,935.
On the flip side, primary schools in the county are in a much better position, with North Yorkshire placing 35th out of 150 at an average of £4,715 per pupil compared to the national figure of £4,611.
Sally Dunn, head of finance for schools at North Yorkshire County Council, told Thursday's meeting the authority had lobbied government on the issues facing secondary schools and that it would continue to do so.
She said: "We speak with the Department of Education on a regular basis.
"We will continue to lobby as far as our secondary school funding position is concerned, and in particular in relation to our small rural secondary schools which are facing significant financial pressures."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter