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Monday, 22 December 2014

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School places shortage looms in Carlisle

Carlisle is at risk of not having enough primary school places – but west Cumbria has too many.

The city district could have a shortfall of up to five per cent of the places it needs by the 2014/15 term, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The report, which studied every local authority district in England, showed a five per cent surplus for Allerdale and Copeland. Eden also had a surplus of five per cent.

The report judged the Carlisle City Council area to be at a high risk of pressure for primary school places.

The increased need follows a rise in the birth rate nationally with 2001-11 seeing the biggest 10-year increase since the 1950s.

The NAO could not confirm specific numbers for Carlisle but estimated 256,000 places would be needed across all schools nationally, with 240,000 of these in primary schools.

The NAO said many local authorities were worried about funding for places at schools, and that pressure for places had had an impact on the amount of time pupils spend travelling to school.

The NAO has suggested free schools, set up by groups within a community, could help plug some gaps. So far, none of these have been started in Carlisle.

A Cumbria County Council spokesman said they were investing more than £12 million to increase primary school places across Carlisle.

“The ‘Transforming Learning’ project, approved by Cabinet in March 2012, is delivering expansion and alterations to schools in the city to enable Carlisle to meet the growing demand for primary school places,” a statement said.

Last year, this project saw two schools – Brook Street and St Cuthbert’s – expand with further work earmarked at 11 more.

In total, there are 46 primary schools in Carlisle, alongside three junior/ infant schools.

“This report shows that, despite the best efforts of councils, we are still facing unprecedented pressures in tackling the desperate shortage of new good quality school places,” said David Simmonds of the Local Government Association. “Councils are ambitious to meet every parent’s expectation that their child has a place in a good school in their local area but there is still not enough capacity to cope with the growing demand.”

The report can be read in full at www.nao.org.uk

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