This report provides the current context for the delivery of the Warwickshire County Council Education Sufficiency Strategy and the Warwickshire SEND and Inclusion Strategy and outlines pupil number forecasts from September 2023.
Cabinet Portfolio Holder – Councillor Kam Kaur
This report was presented by Councillor Kam Kaur, Portfolio Holder for Education, who stated that the Council had a statutory duty to ensure that sufficient early years, childcare, primary, secondary and post-16 education places were available for their area, including places appropriate for pupils with Special Educational Needs/Disabilities (SEND). She advised that the Annual Education Sufficiency Update (Ages 0-25) 2023 was supplementary to the County Council’s Education Sufficiency Strategy and outlined the Council’s approach to this duty, including pupil number forecasts from September 2023, compared against school capacities. Details of any pressures expected during that period were included, along with proposed solutions such as school expansions. Sufficiency of early years, childcare, post-16 and SEND places were also assessed. Council Kaur noted that across the county as a whole, there was sufficient capacity to provide early years and childcare places to all that required it. There was also a sufficient number of places for Post-16 students. Demand for early years places was expected to increase in some areas of high housing development.
She noted that the trend in Warwickshire was for increased demand for specialist education provision. Provision in Specialist Resourced Provision and special schools was being expanded and a ‘deep dive’ review was taking place, as part of the Delivering Better Value Programme, which would lead to recommendations on whether any further special school provision should also be commissioned.
Eleven new schools had opened in Warwickshire since 2010, as well as several permanent school expansions contributing to an overall increase of over 10,000 new permanent school places in the last 10 years. During the next fifteen-year period it was expected to deliver at least another seven new schools, alongside several expansion projects for both mainstream and specialist settings. In the longer term, if all proposed housing development across the county was built as suggested, this figure could rise to as many as 24 new schools being required to meet the need for school places. Early years places and Specialist Resourced Provision would be provided in all new schools where appropriate.
Councillor Kaur highlighted the forecast mainstream pupil numbers as set out in the report and noted that the forecasting methodology used was based on DfE guidance. Councillor Kaur went on to state that demand for primary places in all year groups could be accommodated in existing schools in most planning areas. Areas of high housing development including Nuneaton, Rugby, Kineton, Kenilworth and South of Leamington were forecasting a need for additional primary school places and this was addressed in the Update.
Councillor Kaur noted that all areas of the county were experiencing pressure on Secondary school places in some year groups, as a combined result of larger resident cohorts moving through these year groups and new housing development in the county bringing new families during the school year. In addition to new schools opening and permanent expansion of existing schools as detailed in the Update, to meet the increasing need for places during the school year, Secondary schools would be required to take a small number of pupils over capacity in most year groups and in most areas by the end of 2023. The local authority was working with Secondary schools to support the introduction of temporary expansions/additional places and the Fair Access Protocol would continue to be used as appropriate.
Councillor Kaur provided reassurance that proposed additional school expansions and new schools would be subject to the usual processes of governance prior to submission for Council approval, including of capital expenditure.
Councillor Isobel Seccombe, Chair and Leader, noted that there was a theme to the challenges being discussed around demand for SEND and she considered that this meant changes for schools and how they continued to meet the needs of the community. Councillor Seccombe considered that this required a serious discussion with schools, including academies.
Councillor Jerry Roodhouse expressed his concern regarding SEND that the age that children required support was becoming younger, impacting family centres and nurseries and this would continue to increase demand in future years. He welcomed the proposed deep dive and looked forward to the outcome of the report. He considered that some Member oversight was required to support a culture shift towards a more corporate approach. Councillor Roodhouse indicated he was not supportive of academisation which limited the prospects for a strategic approach. He explained that he had spoken to a primary school headteacher in the days before the meeting and praised the exceptional work she had been doing to ensure the school played its role in the community but he noted a different approach from secondary schools. In his view, the pressures coming through the system were increasing and would continue to do so with self harm, alcohol, and suicide now being noted in younger age groups. He asked how long the feasibilty work with regarding to Rugby North would take.
Councillor Kam Kaur agreed with sentiments expressed around culture but, as could be seen from the report, a lot of work was taking place and the sufficiency team were constantly planning and forecasting. She noted the rise in the need for education, health and care plans and the need to plan now for how schools could support the Council to meet those challenges, bringing the Warwickshire family of schools into a more collaborative way of working.
Councillor Margaret Bell noted that the report did not go into detail on the proportion of in-year places required and whether these were rising. Councillor Kaur responded that in-year applications were having a big impact and there were challenges around schools capping their admission numbers.
That Cabinet endorses the Annual Education Sufficiency Update (Ages 0-25) 2023 at Appendix 1 to the report and confirms its support for the development of design, feasibility and detailed costings for the proposed projects identified in the report.