Parents and children in the Harrogate district may suffer as the lack of spare capacity in schools is increasingly exposed by the massive expansion of housing.
Forecasts in a recent report delivered at North Yorkshire County Council’s Harrogate and Knaresborough area constituency committee showed a predicted shortfall in North Yorkshire in 2023/24 of 213 school places.
A Harrogate-based member of the county council committee said the inevitable result would be what he described as “bigger class sizes” and “overcrowded schools.”
But North Yorkshire County Council told the Harrogate Advertiser that urban Harrogate actually had a surplus of places and it had already identified two sites for new schools in Harrogate and one in Knaresborough should they be required.
Criticism over schools 'depressing picture'
Coun Geoff Webber, a Liberal Democrat county councillor for the Harrogate Bilton and Nidd Gorge division, said he remained unconvinced.
He said: “The picture painted in the report to the county council’s area committee was very depressing.
“Whilst there are places available they may not be at the school of choice and it may not be possible to allocate siblings to the same school.
“What is called “parental choice” will be shown up as window dressing."
New schools identified for Harrogate - says confident county council
Speaking for North Yorkshire County Council, Judith Kirk, assistant director for education and skills, said the county council was on top of the situation and confident of handling it.
She said: “We continually monitor the availability of school places as part of our statutory duty to ensure school place sufficiency across the local area.
“The position for primary schools in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area is that some schools are operating at capacity but this is not the position for all year groups in all schools.
“Indeed, in the current academic year there are around 350 surplus places in the urban Harrogate area.
“The erosion of this surplus capacity will depend upon the underlying demographics combined with the volume and pace of future housing growth.
“The local authority has secured additional sites for education use at Bluecoat Park and Penny Pot Lane in Harrogate and Manse Farm in Knaresborough with a view to the future development of new primary schools should the need arise.
“In addition we continue expansion of existing schools such as that completed at Killinghall CE Primary School and the current works at Oatlands Junior School.”
Lack of spare capacity at district's schools highlighted by report
The clash over figures and consequences was sparked by the "Schools, educational achievement and finance" report presented at last month's North Yorkshire County Council's Harrogate and Knaresborough area constituency committee.
Councillors were looking at the lack of spare capacity in schools in the Harrogate district in the next five years.
Specifically, councillors discussed the low surplus capacity in the county's schools (except for primary aged groupings in Harrogate Primary Urban Central and Boroughbridge Outer areas).
The general picture for pupil rolls across the whole of the county shows projected growth in the urban areas contrasting with declining numbers in rural locations.
The result, according to the NYCC meeting, means a forecast shortfall school places capacity in 2023/24 in North Yorkshire of -213.
And a figure for 2018-10 of -20.
The report to the county council meeting said there aare several social and economic reasons for this including the availability and price of housing and employment factors.
Concern over North Yorkshire situation
The National Education Union, who place the blame firmly at the feet of the national government, rather than the county council, claims Department for Education data showed there were 60 primary schools and seven secondary in North Yorkshire which were either at full capacity or overcrowded last year.
Its concerns are shared by Coun Webber, who said: “I feel that the systemic underfunding, not just of education but all council provided services, is a direct result of the policies of central government.
“In planning terms, a developer only needs to make a contribution commensurate with the additional burden that their development will place on the community.
“But that is not enough to fund “new build” schools.”
Lack of places at schools: Government says situation is improving
Speaking about the figures, the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, pictured, said: “Children only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best, wherever they live and whatever their background.
“That’s why this Government is undertaking the biggest expansion in school places in two generations – and the statistics show we are well on track to create one million places this decade. With standards rising in our schools this will mean that more families have the choice of a good school place.”
A Department of Education spokeswoman said the number of pupils overcapacity had actually fallen from 97,000 in 2010 to 50,000 in 2018.
Union's damning figures on North Yorkshire schools
The National Education Union accused the Government of “inadequate planning” for the increase in pupil numbers and argued local authorities should be allowed to open new schools.
It claimed Department for Education data showed North Yorkshire’s primary schools over capacity by 412 pupils and secondary schools overcapacity by 410 pupil.
Andrew Morris, assistant general secretary of the NEU, said: “Running schools in an incoherent fashion on a shoestring budget is not good enough.”