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More than 1,000 children in Lancashire are without a school place

Posted on - 18th June, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Chorley News, Education, Fylde News, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, Schools, South Ribble News, Wyre News
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston

More than 1,100 children do not currently have a school place in Lancashire, it has emerged – and the problem is more acute in Preston than anywhere else in the county.

The figure – for the number of youngsters described as “missing from education” – was revealed in a Lancashire County Council report which says the problem stems from a growing number of children moving into the area, combined with pre-existing demand for places in some parts of the authority’s patch.

Preston has the highest number of children out of school across all of Lancashire’s 12 district council areas.   The document describes the city as being “under pressure” for pupil places, but does not give a specific total for how many Preston children are currently languishing at home – and the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has so far been unable to obtain a tally from County Hall.

Read more: Issue over new school places could derail plans for Cottam Parkway railway station

Most of the missing pupils across Lancashire are within the admissions system and their parents are “engaging with the school registration process”,  the county council’s corporate performance report states.

Conservative cabinet member for education and skills Jayne Rear told the meeting at which the issue was discussed that the authority had been working to “mitigate” the problems facing Preston, in particular – including via the creation of 80 places in the secondary sector with the expansions of Archbishop Temple Church of England High School in Fulwood and Christ the King Catholic High School in Frenchwood from this September.

“We’ve also negotiated an extra 30 in-year places in Fulwood, Longridge and Ashton to assist with the ‘children missing from education’ figures.

“We’re also working hard with our secondary [headteachers] to increase [capacity] further in September to help with in-year pressure and to have four schools willing to expand…with ‘bulge classes’ – not just in one group, [but] in different year groups,” County Cllr Rear explained.

Significant expansions of two Preston primaries are also in train – with 210 new places coming to Lea Community Primary School and Cottam Primary School, phased in over seven-year periods.

However, as the LDRS has documented, there has been consternation amongst some councillors representing North West Preston over the fact that a trio of schools promised as part of the massive expansion of that part of the city – where around 6,000 new homes are being built over the two decades through to the mid-2030s – are yet to materialise.

Two primary schools and a secondary school were proposed within a masterplan guiding that development, published back in 2017.  Space for two of the establishments has even been reserved within new housing estates which have been granted planning permission.

Yet in January this year, a county council cabinet meeting heard that a “downward trajectory of births” and a slowing in the forecast pace of housing growth had led the authority to review its options to meet what it believed would now be a “lower than originally anticipated shortfall” in places.

The focus would be on “a broader range of solutions which promote flexibility, support existing schools – and are timely and do not oversupply”, members were told.

Separately, however, the former Whittingham Hospital site has been identified as the ‘preferred option’ for the future development of a 420-place primary school.

The Lancashire-wide figure of 1,169 pupils missing from education – which excludes those living in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen and also does not include children being home educated. – was of “real concern”, Labour opposition group leader Matthew Tomlinson said.

He noted the disparity between the places so far created to tackle the problem and the scale of the challenge – and warned that the shadow cabinet would be “asking some questions” about the issue.

‘Part of a national problem’

In a statement issued to the LDRS responding to the issues raised at the cabinet meeting, a County Hall spokesperson said:  “Children missing education is a national issue that local authorities, working with schools, health services and other partner agencies, up and down the country are grappling with.

“The latest reported figure of children missing education in Lancashire represents 0.6 percent of the school aged population.

“There are variety of reasons why children are not on roll at a school and therefore defined as ‘children missing education’ and the circumstances are often complex.  As soon as the local authority is aware that a child is not on roll at a school, we engage quickly with families to try to get them a school place as soon as possible.

“Lancashire County Council has a dedicated team who identify and work with children missing education and their families to understand their circumstances and where possible, to facilitate a safe return to education for the child.”

Provisional figures show 99 percent of children in the county council area who are starting in reception class this September have secured one of their family’s top three choices of primary school.    The equivalent figure for secondary places is 97 percent.

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