With 10,000 more children under the age of four in Hertfordshire compared to a decade ago, the county council shares its strategic approach to making sure every child has a school place.
Hertfordshire County Council is committed to providing high quality education for children and young people, and will ensure that every child in the county has a school place. The county council has a successful track record in school planning, and last year 96 per cent of Hertfordshire applicants were offered a place at one of their four ranked primary, junior or middle schools, with 83 per cent gaining their first preference.
However, the process is becoming more challenging each year, with 10,000 more children under the age of four in Hertfordshire compared to a decade ago. Last year, the Hertfordshire Admissions Service received 15,267 applications for reception places, an increase of 392 compared to the year before.
The previous rise in demand for primary places is now beginning to impact at secondary level, and the county council continues to work with secondary schools in a number of areas across the county to deliver additional secondary places to meet forecast demand.
A school place for every child
David Williams, Cabinet Member for Education, said: “As our population continues to grow, we must ensure there is a school place for every child that needs one. Hertfordshire County Council is meeting this growing demand, despite the financial pressures we are facing.
“We have managed a complex situation well by recognising the need for additional places and taking an strategic approach to ensure the need is met.
“We have invested £17.55m on 810 additional permanent primary places and £1.7m on over 300 temporary reception places for September 2016 on top of spending £170m between 2011 and 2015 and providing more than 3,000 additional permanent and temporary reception places. We will continue to invest to ensure that where the county’s population grows, we’ve got the right facilities in the right places, and that includes school places.”
Hertfordshire County Council has funded school expansions through central government Basic Need grants and from housing developers’ planning obligations to ensure the impact of new housing in an area on the demand for school places can be mitigated. The county council has committed over £245 million into building and expanding schools across the county from 2011 to date. Of this, 71.9 per cent was funded by Basic Need, 12.8 per cent by S106 contributions and 15.3 per cent funded by other income. There are currently 533 schools in Hertfordshire, including 90 academies and six free schools.
Hertfordshire County Council works with a diverse range of schools across its area in responding to local need. The council considers the permanent expansion of school places in areas where ongoing, long-term need is forecast, and has a preference for schools of a sufficient size to support sustainability and provide value for money. Where possible and in urban areas, the council would look to provide primary schools of at least two forms of entry (i.e. 60 places in each year group), and at least six forms of entry secondary schools offering 180 places per year group.
To ensure effective planning and management of school places in Hertfordshire, the county council produces annual pupil number forecasts to predict the surplus or shortfall of school places in the future. The forecasts are produced four years ahead at primary and 11 years ahead at secondary level, forecasting to both year of admission and total pupil population. The forecast is based on actual data of preschool aged children obtained from GP registrations, data on the existing pupil population sourced from school census and information on new housing. The forecast methodology also takes into account of primary pupils moving on to secondary schools and local trends, including migration to and from other authorities. This information is collated and then compared with the existing places available in each area.
Based on these forecasts as well as other local information, the council identifies the number of school places needed in the area, continually reviewing proposals for additional or reduced places to make sure they are best-tailored to meet the changing forecast of demand.
If the need for more school places is identified, options for best meeting the need are considered by a multi‑disciplinary team of officers taking account of the number of places required, location, property and site feasibility, cost, environmental issues, school effectiveness and any town planning constraints.
Once viable options are established, these are then considered by elected members through the political approval process. Any school reorganisation change proposed by the county council would involve a public consultation to seek comments and views of the local community before a decision is made. Where the proposal requires new buildings or securing a new site, this decision is conditional upon planning permission which requires a further process and a separate public consultation within the town planning process.
Successful school expansions
Having identified a need for more primary places in east and central Hertford based on forecast demand and projections from the Office of National Statistics 2011 census, Hertfordshire County Council looked at numerous sites and existing primary schools to see where new places could be best delivered.
This analysis included both the feasibility of expanding existing sites as well as the possible delivery of a new primary school site. An assessment of the options considered whether the right number of places would be delivered in the right location to meet forecast demand, the potential for enhancing school effectiveness and the deliverability of options within the timescale required, taking account of identified challenging site and town planning constraints on a number of existing school sites.
Following this assessment, the county council worked with Simon Balle School, a secondary academy, to bring forward proposals for a primary phase on its existing site. Simon Balle is considered well located to meet the demand for places in the centre and east of the town for the future. This proposal was supported by the government’s targeted Basic Need funding as well as funding from the county council to deliver the new facilities and buildings it would require. A consultant team undertook different technical studies at the site to look at traffic, trees, ecology, flooding, drainage, access and town planning issues. A public consultation took place, and a planning application was submitted.
The scheme includes new school buildings to the front of the Simon Balle school site offering accommodation for the primary aged pupils along with outdoor play facilities, improved on-site car parking with a revised in and out scheme and an on-site drop off area. A new pedestrian crossing point and improved pedestrian routes were provided to encourage more pupils to walk to school. New trees were planted to soften the building form, and derelict sports courts were updated.
An all-through school
Following completion of the building works, in September 2015, Simon Balle School, formerly just a secondary school, became the second ‘all-through’ school in Hertfordshire by launching a primary phase offering 60 reception places to its first cohort of primary aged pupils.
The school now operates as one institution with the same head teacher and site. The school opened two reception classes in 2015 and the school will fill from the bottom up.
Head teacher Alison Saunders said: “The school was designed as a two-form-entry primary with an initial 60 students, and as this is a phased approach we will take an additional 60 students each year. We are now at the end of our first year; so our existing children will move up to year one and we are already over subscribed for September.
“Our families, staff and visitors comment upon what a special place this is and already we are seeing the benefits of an all-through school. Our vision of the school is incredibly strong; it is a real privilege to be the headteacher of Simon Balle all-through school and we are extremely grateful to Hertfordshire County Council for their visionary approach and support.”
Another example of how the county council has met the increasing demand for school places is a recent secondary school expansion in St Albans. In 2015, the council funded 15 new classrooms at Sandringham School, which included three large science laboratories, a computer science room, preparation rooms and seminar rooms to accommodate 30 new pupils per year.
Head teacher Alan Gray said: “The funding for additional accommodation provided by Hertfordshire County Council has allowed the school to successfully admit students and meet local demographic pressures to the north of St Albans. These new facilities are built to the highest standard and will provide and outstanding learning environment for many young people in the future.”
Hertfordshire County Council’s essential role in commissioning new school places will face growing challenges, especially in the context of increased housing allocations. More new sites will need to be allocated for educational use and increasing urban centre development and continuing changing demographics may also drive up pupil yields in areas where expansion opportunities are limited and new sites are rarely available. Additional challenges include the ability to obtain the resources required to negotiate new sites with developers and address development viability concerns, rising construction costs, and green belt constraints.
Nevertheless, the Council will continue to meet the growing demand for school places to secure a strong pattern of great schools.
To ensure the continuation of valued school improvement services to Hertfordshire schools, Herts for Learning, the UK’s largest schools company, plays a role in Hertfordshire’s great schools by providing an exciting and innovative approach to delivering school improvement services across the county.
Herts for Learning is a not for profit company, owned by schools and the council, providing a wide range of school improvement and business support services. 92 per cent of Hertfordshire schools have bought a share in the company and the county council has a 20 per cent shareholding.
Hertfordshire is now leading the way with its great schools programme; with nearly 90 per cent of schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, which is above the national average of 86 per cent. In October, the county council will be launching its first ever #HertsGreatSchools campaign to celebrate the fantastic schools in the county, with a week dedicated to the amazing teachers and pupils in Hertfordshire.
David Williams, Cabinet Member for Education, concludes: “We have some of the best education facilities in the UK, and to have 90 per cent of our schools rated good or outstanding is testament to the hard work of school leaders, teachers and governing bodies. The school improvement support available from Herts for Learning, the UK’s largest schools company, is second to none.
“It is a priority for the county council to make sure young people get the best possible start in life, and we are committed to making sure that every child in Hertfordshire has a place at one of our great schools so they can reach their full potential. We will continue to invest money to ensure that where the county’s population grows, we build the appropriate infrastructure and provide enough school places.”