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Race on to create primary school places
HAMPSHIRE is facing a massive squeeze on primary school places, new figures show.
Forecasts from the Department for Education (DfE) predict a shortfall of 1,778 places by 2015/16 in Southampton alone, the equivalent of three new schools.
Across the Hampshire County Council area, 2,278 more spaces will be needed.
Last night an MP warned of “very real concerns” about the shortfall. But city council leader Royston Smith said plans were in hand to deal with the problem.
County council chiefs are drawing up plans to tackle the issue, believing they need at least 19 more primary schools by 2022.
Cllr Smith said the city council was holding on to the former Millbrook School building to prepare for a corresponding surge in demand for secondary school places.
He said: “We could sell it, for housing, when the new academies are built, and could certainly do with the capital. But we understand the problems that we face.
“Should this bulge come through, and we need more secondary places, we have a school we can use. It is a challenge, but we are rising to it in the best way we can.”
Cllr Smith said previous population predictions forecasting surplus spaces in the city proved “woefully inadequate”.
The figures also revealed that almost a quarter of Hampshire County Council’s secondary schools, and 13 of Southampton’s 61, are already running over capacity.
Across England, just 20 per cent of schools were oversubscribed.
Critics seized on the figures to highlight the Government’s decision to cut 60 per cent from capital budget, including scrapping the Building Schools for the Future programme.
Southampton Itchen Labour MP John Denham said: “I am aware of the problem, and I am not confident that the resources will be available to meet demand, certainly not without starving our secondary schools of much-needed funding.”
Hampshire County Council is currently consulting on a draft plan to tackle the long-term shortfall. County bosses believe between 19 and 21 new primary schools, and two new secondary schools, are needed over the next decade.
The DfE said it was targeting funding at the areas facing a critical shortfall to help them provide extra school places.
Schools Minister Lord Hill said: “We're more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers to over £4 billion in the next four years. We are building free schools and letting the most popular schools expand to meet demand from parents."