Agenda item

Pupil Place Planning and Capital Projects

Includes Appendix: Pupil Place Planning Peer Review in Lambeth

Minutes:

The Director of Education, Learning and Skills introduced the report and stated that:

  • This was an annual report which would also go to Cabinet later in the year, looking at pupil place planning and school building to ensure the number of school places in the borough was adequate. It explained the methodology, the history and background to the additional places which had been provided via bulge classes or new buildings, and future projections
  • Primary school places had been expanded by about a third over the last 6-7 years to accommodate a baby boom, most of whom were now expected to transfer to secondary schools in the borough; planning was therefore focusing on increasing secondary places
  • The scrutiny commission had challenged officers last year to have Lambeth’s methodology peer reviewed; this review was conducted by a peer from Hounslow Council and the resultant report was included as an appendix to the main report. This exercise was very helpful in providing reassurance that Lambeth’s methodology was sound, while also offering recommendations for future improvement

 

Councillor Davie explained that the peer review was carried out in response to a request from a group connected to Archbishop Sumner (ABS) School, who had concerns pupil place planning was not being dealt with properly. ABS had chosen to take a bulge class in 2015, though this was not authorised by the Council and had also caused some ill feeling among other schools in the Oval cluster. A discussion on this took place and the following points were made:

 

  • Members were pleased that the peer review had shown Lambeth’s methodology was sound
  • Officers confirmed that ABS had again chosen to take an unauthorised bulge class in 2016 despite the previous concerns which had been raised and the results of the peer review, which had been reported to the school
  • The majority of members believed this was unfair on other local schools, who might have their financial viability undermined, and questioned what sanctions, if any, the Council could impose. Officers responded that the Council had made its feelings clear but since the school was its own admission authority, it could choose to take a  bulge class
  • Councillor Briggs stated that he did not agree with the rest of the commission on this point and wished to note his support for ABS, which was an outstanding school and was responding to demand for extra places from local parents
  • Councillor Davie stated that the whole commission acknowledged ABS was outstanding and this was not a question of supporting the school but rather about being fair to all schools in the area; indeed, last year the other 11 schools in the Oval cluster had written to say the ABS bulge would undermine their ability to continue to be outstanding. It was also noted that the diocese did not approve of the unilateral decision to take a bulge class. The commission, when agreeing to recommend a peer review last year in the face of accusations of shortcomings in the pupil place planning process, commented that the level of disagreement was making relations difficult, and he was very disappointed ABS had not taken the opportunity to respond more positively
  • Councillor Claire Holland, in attendance as the Deputy Cabinet Member for Children and Schools but also a ward councillor for Oval, echoed Councillor Davie’s view and stated that she knew of a number of complaints from parents in the area. The Council had responded positively and proactively by carrying out the peer review and there was great disappointment at the school’s actions
  • Maggie Harriott, Education and Strategy Manager, confirmed that 48 first preference applications were received for the 60 places which would be available at ABS for the September 2016 intake due to the second unauthorised bulge. Only 56 offers were made in total. Councillor Davie requested that the full breakdown of applications be sent to the commission in writing and that the commission then write to ABS outlining its concerns, while noting Councillor Briggs’ contrary view

 

Members then questioned officers more generally on pupil place planning issues and the following points were made:

 

  • The Gipsy Hill Federation was due to take additional Year 7 pupils from 2017 It was noted that some primary schools in the federation had expanded and would have some additional space which could be used to house year 7 pupils for the first year in the interim, though it was accepted this was not ideal. The schools in question was a free school and it was therefore the Education Funding Agency’s responsibility to identify sites and then discuss these with officers, councillors and Planning
  • The projections suggested that in 2018-19 the borough would start to have more primary places than pupils, and members questioned whether this could mean schools closing, noting that this had caused problems in the past while acknowledging this was a difficult thing to manage. Mike Pocock, Director or Business, Growth and Regeneration, responded that, since newer schools were more energy efficient and cheaper to run, it was easier for schools to operate under capacity; also the population of London was projected to increase over time so it made sense to hold on to school sites
  • Members asked for thoughts and progress on the three recommendations which arose from the peer review. On recommendation 1, officers responded that producing roll-based rather than demand-based projections could constrain projections to the places available, but the GLA were currently producing London-wide roll-based projections and the Council would look at this. With regards to recommendation 2, good links had been created with Housing and Planning. On recommendation 3, the annual report to be shared with schools and other partners had already been started
  • In relation to the reasons for secondary school pupils moving out of the borough for education, there were a number of factors including good public transport links, the proximity of many homes to the borough boundary, and people wishing to attend single sex or faith schools. There were similar trends in other boroughs and the patters did not suggest significant negative push factors
  • Faith schools, academies and free schools all acted as their own admission authorities; only community schools had their admissions completely managed by the Council (though the Council oversaw the pan-London applications process and liaised with all schools as part of this). Officers did however work with all schools to try to ensure they did not expand unless needed. The recent government white paper proposed that Local Authorities would continue to have a responsibility for pupil place planning yet it was likely more schools would become academies and there was a concern that this could mean more popular schools taking unilateral action in an attempt to thrive in what would be a more “market-based” system. Councillor Dyer expressed particular concern at the effect this could have on inequalities and urged officers to start considering how to deal with this. Councillor Briggs objected to the use of the word “market”, which could be seen as a crude term, and expressed a view that the proposed changes would drive up standards generally and result in sharing of good practice

 

Supporting documents: