Questions asked over county council's preparation for surge in secondary school places in Northampton

Opposition councillors have questioned why Northamptonshire County Council ‘had not prepared’ for a surge in school places for September.

Tuesday, 9th April 2019, 6:29 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th April 2019, 6:32 pm
The amount of school places for Year 7 students was short by 171 before a number of academies stepped in to offer places

The council is having to rely on a number of academies in Northampton opening their doors to plug a 171 space gap in the number of school places available to Year 7 pupils starting in the next academic year.

Despite the 420 additional Year 7 places that were added to the capacity, it is working with six schools in the town to accommodate an additional 200 spaces over the next two years.

But councillors want to know why the authority didn’t see the problem coming, especially as they claim it was warned about this potential scenario years ago.

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Council leader Matt Golby was formerly cabinet member for education

Speaking at this afternoon’s cabinet meeting (April 9), Labour councillor Danielle Stone said current council leader Matt Golby, who was cabinet member for education at the time, should take some responsibility.

She said: “Who is going to ultimately be accountable for the position that we are in, because we have known for the last five years that we needed more secondary school places in Northampton.

“Five years ago I asked the question, and was told that we needed five new schools in Northampton. We’ve got two, so that leaves three outstanding. And I really do want an answer on who is responsible, because I think it might be you Councillor Golby.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Dennis Meredith added: “Five years ago I played an active role on children’s scrutiny, and we had the then officer in charge of children’s places came to that scrutiny meeting and she gave us an in-depth analysis of what was going to happen, and she predicted exactly what has happened today.

Councillor Danielle Stone said that council leader Matt Golby needed to take some of the responsibility

“None of these situations have been taken care of. Somebody ought to take responsibility for being in charge, and Councillor Golby was the portfolio holder for children’s services at the time. He knew about this situation and what would happen. I don’t think enough has been done.”

But Councillor Golby responded: “We’re talking about seven or eight thousand places required a year, so we have to put these 171 places into that sort of context. It is a drop in the ocean but equally those children obviously require a school place and we want them to have the best education possible.

“But rather than knock our team, and I acknowledge my responsibility in that portfolio a while back, we need to recognise how we’ve met the challenge.”

Schools providing places include Northampton International Academy offering 60 places, Abbeyfield School, Northampton Academy, The Duston School and Thomas Becket Catholic School providing 30 places each, while Northampton School for Girls is offering 20 places.

New cabinet member for education Cllr Fiona Baker says the county council is still targeting a new secondary school for Northampton

Three of these academies will require capital works and improvements to the school sites to ensure they have sufficient space to accommodate the additional students that will be attending the school in future.

As a result, the county council is making an extra £2.3million capital investment to support the expansion and is also providing additional revenue money for each school to pay for the extra staff required.

Councillor Fiona Baker, the current cabinet member for education, said: “One of the statutory duties of the county council is to provide a sufficient number of school places in the county so I’m delighted that we’ve been able to work with a number of schools to accommodate a surge in pupil numbers for the next academic year.

“Going forward, our growing county means that we are continually faced with the challenge of providing more school places in the future and we will continue to work with our partners to make this happen.

“The medium and long term plan for meeting the demand for secondary school places in Northampton town remains the provision of a brand new secondary school to serve the town.

“The county council continues to work in collaboration with a number of academy trusts to facilitate a successful free school application that will meet demand in the longer term.”