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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Cumbria ahead of the rush for primary school places

Cumbria's primary schools have plenty of places for increasing numbers of children despite fresh fears of a crisis within two years in up to two-thirds of England’s council areas.

Council chiefs in Cumbria have already moved to tackle predicted shortages in Carlisle and parts of Penrith with its moves nearing completion as a new academic year begins.

Meanwhile the Local Government Authority says up to two-thirds of councils in England could see nearly twice as many children needing places than are available.

In Cumbria, the county council’s £12.5m Transforming Learning programme has created new places in primary schools where shortages were predicted, largely across Carlisle.

It has included formally increasing the official annual intakes at certain schools as well as building new classrooms.

It has involved building work at schools including Robert Ferguson in Denton Holme; Newtown School in Raffles; and Petteril Bank School in Harraby.

There are also plans for new extensions at the two Kingmoor schools in Lowry Hill and relocate Pennine Way Primary School as part of a larger scheme to create a community hub in Harraby on the Edgehill Road site of the former secondary school.

Other schools benefiting from the Transforming Learning programme include Brunswick School and St Catherine’s Catholic School in Penrith as well as Inglewood Junior, Brook Street, St Cuthbert’s Catholic Community School, Upperby and Yewdale Schools, all in Carlisle.

A Cumbria County Council spokesman said: “Cumbria closely monitors the pupil place requirement and has secured additional provision where places were needed, such as the multi-million pound investment into expanding primary schools in Carlisle.

“These additional places reflect increasing birth rates and the predicted school place need over the coming years.

“Other factors are also taken into account such as parental preference, wherever possible and also the trend of movement around the county.

“We’re also closely monitoring proposals for new housing developments in the county to ensure any requirements for additional places are addressed.”

The moves in Cumbria to address shortages come as new figures from the Local Government Association claim there is a school places crisis looming in many parts of England.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, warned of a “desperate” shortage of school places.

“Mums and dads quite rightly expect their child to have access to a place in good school, that is nearby, and in a good state of repair,” he said.

“But councils are facing unprecedented pressures in tackling the desperate shortage of new school places.

“Councils across the country have been increasing places by expanding schools where possible through additional classes or new buildings.

“However, without enough resource to provide places we are seeing some schools having to take extreme measures including converting non-classroom space and reducing playground space.”

The figures forecast that Costessey in Norfolk, Purfleet in Thurrock and central Croydon will have at least 75 per cent more pupils by 2015 than the number of places currently available.

By 2016/17, central Bedfordshire, Croydon, Bedford, Waltham Forest, Newham and Hounslow councils are forecast to see the biggest demand for primary places with the need to increase school capacity by 25 per cent or more.

In Cumbria, there are more places available than required, even when rising demands up until September 2016 are taken into account.

There are almost 38,500 places in schools across the county but this September just 35,028 are being filled.

The predicted demand in September 2016 is for 35,474 places with Cumbrian schools set to be running at 92 per cent capacity.

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