Feature: South Yorkshire schools battling to chalk-up extra school places after baby boom

Oasis Don Valley Academy, Olympic Legacy Park, Sheffield.
Oasis Don Valley Academy, Olympic Legacy Park, Sheffield.

An unprecedented baby boom caused joy for parents across South Yorkshire – but for council bosses it has led to an almighty headache.

Parents often think that when their child is ready for primary school then they will automatically be given a place close by.

The proposed Bannerdale School.

The proposed Bannerdale School.

But what happens if these schools are already oversubscribed? And what happens when they are ready to move up to secondary school?

A 25 per cent rise in births in recent years has meant councils across South Yorkshire had to look at the number of school places they had – and they found they simply did not have enough for the numbers of children who needed one.

Existing schools are now being expanded and new schools are being built.

In Sheffield, two new primary schools were built in Fir Vale and Shirecliffe, while extra places were created at many others.

Artist impression of the new school at Pye Bank, Sheffield

Artist impression of the new school at Pye Bank, Sheffield

A new through-school, Oasis Academy Don Valley, was built for youngsters aged from two to 16.

And the council is planning to build new secondary schools on the old Bannerdale school site, in the south of the city, and a through-school on the old Pye Bank School site in the north.

Joel Hardwick, co-head of service for access and pupil services at Sheffield Council, said there had been a lot of pressure on the council to create school places.

An extra 5,000 primary school places have been created since 2006.

Artist impression of the new school in Pitsmoor

Artist impression of the new school in Pitsmoor

He said: “Sheffield follows a national trend in births almost to the year. We saw a low point in 2002, followed by a 25 per cent rise between 2002 and 2012 and things have steadied off since then.

“In relation to school places, our low point in reception was 2006.

“Since then, that rise has come through in primary schools up to 2016. We’ve had 1,200 more children coming into reception between 2006 and 2016 and obviously that puts pressure on school places.”

The proportion of children offered one of their three preferred schools has remained around the same. In 2006, it was 97.3 per cent and in 2016 it was 97.5 per cent.

Damian Allen is joining the team at Doncaster Council.

Damian Allen is joining the team at Doncaster Council.

“We’ve done that by putting places in the schools where there is greatest needed,” said Mr Hardwick.

“Seven years later these children have come through to secondary school. We’re just at the start of that.

“We have started with a couple of early expansions and potential expansions at two to three schools and then we have got two brand new schools at Bannerdale and Woodside, as well as the new Oasis Academy Don Valley.

“We have done the majority of the planning to meet that need as they come through to secondary school age.

“Once we get to early 2020 we will need to keep an eye on it for places where families want them. We still need to think about where extra places will be needed.”

Mr Hardwick said every area of Sheffield has its own challenges and every area where there is population growth is looked at individually.

He added: “So far, most families are getting a place at one of the three preferred primary schools of their choice which shows that we have managed the 25 per cent increase really well in Sheffield.

‘Our aspirations are for all pupils to be able to attend their local schools as this is key to them achieving their potential’

Building work has been carried out at a number of over-subscribed primary schools in Rotherham to increase capacity – with more planned.

Some £13 million has been spent increasing primary school capacity since 2011.

And with those children now reaching secondary school age, the council is putting in plans to accommodate them.

Permission has been granted for plans to increase capacity at Wales High School and there are proposals for extra pupils to attend St Bernard’s, Wath Comprehensive, St Pius, Oakwood High and Aston Academy.

A new primary school is planned to be built in Waverley by 2020.

Deputy council leader Coun Gordon Watson added: “We have planned carefully and successfully for the increase in demand in our primary sector and now we need to do the same across our secondary schools.

“We need to make sure we have enough places for all of our pupils and if we don’t act now then these children will not be able to attend their local schools in future.

“Our aspirations are for all pupils to be able to attend their local schools as this is the key to them achieving their potential.”

Last year, 97.3 per cent of Rotherham youngsters were offered a place at one of their three preferred primary schools.

In Doncaster, council bosses have already increased capacity at some primary schools and further expansions are planned to create more than 350 primary places. Similar to Sheffield, the council has identified where there is shortfall and provided solutions so youngsters get a place at a school close to their home.

Damian Allen, director of learning and opportunities at Doncaster Council, said: “We have put plans in place to ensure that all children in the borough have access to school places.

“Our latest figures for 2016-17 show that more than 96 per cent of parents are receiving their first choice of primary schools and more than 95 per cent of secondary school places in the borough. This is above the national average of 84 per cent.

“To help us manage an increase in demand for places we have increased capacity in a number of schools across the borough.

“We have identified where the shortfall of places occurs and provided solutions to address the need for additional places.

“This is not something we can do in isolation and we are reliant on the co-operation from individual schools to help expand existing provision.

“We are working with Hayfield Lane Primary School in Auckley to create an additional 210 reception places to meet the demands of the community.

“Further expansions are also in place at Armthorpe Our Lady of Sorrows and Stirling Primary School, creating an extra 70 places in each school.

“We are also developing plans to increase capacity in schools in the Rossington, Hall Cross and Armthorpe pyramids.”

Baby Boom in numbers

25% rise in births in recent years

5,000 extra primaey school places created since 2006

1,200 more children coming in to reception between 2006 and 2016