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General questions about class sizes, oversubscriptions and (lack of) planning by local authorities and government

(6 Posts)
SouthLondonDaddy Wed 15-Mar-17 09:44:23

Hi all, I can't get my head around how some aspects of the education system work in England.

I understand we lack a clear and structured population register, of the kind which seem to be common in continental Europe. Do the Department of Education and local authorities have at least some estimate of the number of children likely to reach primary and secondary school age? I say "likely" because families can always move around. For example, do they use data from, I don't know, GP registrations to estimate the population of school children?

Also, what happens when there are not enough places for all the children starting school in a given year? Let's say that in a local authority there are 100 children who'll start primary school; maybe 10 will go to private (as in, non-state) schools, move elsewhere, etc, and 90 need to attend state schools. If the state schools in the local authority only has room for 70, what exactly happens? Surely they cannot create a new school from scratch overnight. Do they increase the class sizes of the existing schools? With what criteria? Etc.

Our child will not start school before a few years, so this is just a generic question, but any help on shedding some light on how the system works would be appreciated!

prh47bridge Wed 15-Mar-17 13:06:25

The Office of National Statistics produces population projections which will allow LAs to estimate the number of children likely to reach primary school age. The DfE also produces national pupil projections based on ONS data and other sources predicting the numbers of children in each age group in coming years.

The number of children likely to reach secondary school is easier to determine. LAs know how many children they have in primary schools in each year so they know how many children in state primary schools are coming up to secondary school age. That won't tell them exactly how many applications they will receive but it is usually a pretty good approximation.

If there are not enough places the LA cannot increase the class sizes of existing schools. It is up to the governors to determine class sizes, not the LA, and increasing class sizes in Reception in most primary schools will result in that school breaching the infant class size limit, either immediately or in future years. If there is a shortage of places the LA will attempt to persuade schools to open bulge classes, i.e. additional Reception classes allowing them to admit more children. They may also investigate the possibility of sending some children to a neighbouring LA if there are spaces available just over the border, but that will not be the LA's preferred option.

tiggytape Wed 15-Mar-17 23:26:03

As prh says, for primary school places, it can be more difficult than many imagine to accurately predict numbers 4 years in advance because some areas have very transient populations.
For example in area of high house prices, families with a baby may have their first home in a centrally located flat but then move a mile or so further out to a bigger house before the child turns 4 or when a second child comes along.
In other areas, people may tend to go private in large numbers in good years and, in a recession, this trend may rapidly reverse. This can change quite quickly - especially if it coincides for example with local state schools getting outstanding Ofsteds or in other ways being seen as a free and good alternative to people who would normally not apply for a place.
So councils have models that are based on historical trends and uptake figures (how many children in an area might one day want or need a school place years down the line). Other things might feed into this model too - for example estimates concerning demand created from new housing developments and tracking current Pre School numbers etc. So yes - councils do their best to estimate it but they don't always get it right.

Regardless of numbers, the LA has a duty to find each child who applies a school place. It might not be the most local school to their home or even one their parents requested but every child has to be made an offer. Bulge classes are one-off extra classes added to any school deemed able to cope at a time when many children are without local places. Bulge classes aren't always added to the most popular school but to the ones where enough outside or other space exists. Alternatives are for the LA to pay transport costs (sometimes even taxis) for children to attend schools more than 2 miles from home.
Class sizes for YR-Y2 are restricted to 30 by law and cannot easily exceed this number.

admission Wed 15-Mar-17 23:34:17

The other issue in this debate is that previously the LA had far more power to open a new school etc than it does now. Now all new schools have to be "free" schools which are not in any way LA controlled. They are also frequently not in the place that the LA believes is where there need to be more school places made available.
If a significant new estate is being built, like the 2000 home estate near us, then the LA will have a good idea how many pupils may be in the houses when they are built and can insist on the developer paying for (section 105 money I believe it is called) a school. The trouble is if the houses on the estate are all 4 bedroomed houses then there is likely to be far more secondary school age pupils in the houses than there are primary school pupils and conversely the more "affordable" housing there is, the more likelyhood for primary school age pupils to be in those houses.

SouthLondonDaddy Thu 16-Mar-17 23:40:33

Thank you, that's interesting. Does the council have total discretion in where (as in, in which schools) to create bulge classes? Can it create them in any state school (including religious, academies, etc) or only in some kind of schools?
Do schools apply pressure? E.g. do schools tend to want bulge classes, because it means extra funding, or do they tend not to want them because they incur more expenses with the same budget?

prh47bridge Fri 17-Mar-17 00:32:09

The council is the admission authority for community schools and voluntary controlled schools. This gives them the ability to admit beyond PAN (Published Admission Number) without the consent of the governors, effectively forcing the school to create a bulge class, although the council will try to reach agreement with the governors first. Other types of school (academies, free schools, voluntary aided schools and foundation schools) are their own admission authority. The council cannot force these schools to open bulge classes. All they can do is try to persuade the governors to accept one.

A bulge class brings extra funding but it also brings additional expense. Depending on the number of children being admitted the additional funding may not be enough to cover the additional expense. It normally means temporary buildings have to be erected on the school's land. In general schools don't want bulge classes. If they wanted and had the space for additional pupils they would increase PAN.

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