My great interest in education drove me to becoming a councillor. I have been a governor at Monkspath Junior & Infants school for some 25 years and being a governor encouraged me to try and make a difference at the next level – some 12 years ago. It comes as no surprise then I sit on the Education & Children’s Service Scrutiny Board.
At our meeting on 5 March a report looking at ‘Demography and School Place Planning’ came before us. The object of the report was ‘To report on demographic growth in Solihull and identify areas where school places will need to be added in order to meet the anticipated growth’. The full report can be viewed via the council website via this link: http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/documents/s5143/School%20Place%20Planning%20report.pdf
When I first became a governor, school places in Solihull were at a premium (I moved here from Birmingham, principally for better access to its good schools). Parents were offered a ‘Preference’ which should never have been confused with having a choice. However, falling birth rates have offered parents a real choice these past 12 years or so with 93%+ parents getting their first choice for schools in the borough; a brilliant statistic. It also meant parents can access schools not in their immediate area.
The lack of housing development since the economic crash has kept major house building development down, but the Local Development Plan allows for development within the borough to meet the needs of residents. In my ward, Blythe ward, there may be as many as an additional 1000 homes between now and 2025 (phased over that period). This will mean planning for school places to meet the future need. A guide all local education authorities use (and it has proved to be pretty accurate) is for every 100 homes we can expected 25 children of primary school age and 25 of secondary school age. We also calculate that some will go to schools out of the borough (King Edwards etc) and some may enter the private system. This still places pressure on the need to plan ahead.
It is quite understandable for parents to wonder if their children will be able to get into their local school if/when these news homes are lived in. The short answer is; Yes. The main reason for this is that although the schools in Blythe ward have a healthy number of pupils (school governors like this – bums on seats equals a higher grant) there are many out-of-borough pupils at schools in Blythe ward.
On page 8 of the report it relates to primary schools in the Rural South; that is, Cheswick Green, Dickens Heath, Hockley Heath Academy, St Patricks and Tidbury Green. Here you will find that of 1213 pupils at these schools some 699 are resident within the area (catchment if you like); 279 (or 23%) of pupils come from other local education areas (out-of-borough), with a further 235 pupils coming from the rest of Solihull. It therefore means that with more children going to schools in their catchment area there will be fewer places for out-of-borough children; which is right and proper.
Page 5 of the report relates to Monkspath, where 8.8% of pupils at the schools in that area come from out of borough. There is though a high number who attend these schools from other areas in Solihull. Page 12 of the same report also outlines the major housing developments in the centre and south of Solihull.
At the meeting we discussed the scenario of which schools pupils in the proposed new housing development at Blythe valley would attend, as well as the obvious – they would have to travel to get to their nearest schools.
One other issue I will seek to raise when the local authority does formulate its next school spaces plan is that of transition. It is a problem when new people move into Solihull and there is no free place at the nearest school in certain age groups. We will need to ensure good planning to ensure school spaces are available in future to accommodate new residents and the residents of new developments.
The situation must remain fluid, but with a good focus on the future. I know from our own experience that things do change. I remember filling in forms from the council after we moved to Monkspath (about 1984). Then it seemed the council were planning for two small schools; one in Monkspath, the other on Hillfield. We needed up with a medium sized one at Monkspath that soon had to be extended to become the largest primary school in the borough, having three forms entry (90 in each year group).
What I can promise you is the council are looking at the situation constantly and that I will continue to monitor the situation and engage with the officers I shall also feed back to residents.