Rising birth rates force schools squeeze

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WIGAN Council is being forced to address a growing demand for school places due to a dramatic rise in the number of young learners in the borough’s population hotspots.

The local authority has already had to provide additional places in several areas across Wigan and Leigh due to rising birth rates, and is forecasting school intakes swelling further in the next few years.

The areas of the borough where the number of children starting their education is increasing most include Platt Bridge, Orrell, Lowton, Pemberton, Atherton and Tyldesley.

The preparations are being made as the National Audit Office (NAO) warns of considerable strain being placed on local authorities to ensure there are enough classrooms for every child to begin school, saying more than a quarter of a million extra primary school places need to be provided across the country by autumn next year.

Kirston Nelson, head of education at Wigan Council, said: “There has been an increase in demand for school places in Wigan Borough due to a rise in the birth rate over the last four years.

“We’ve been closely monitoring the situation and have invested in additional primary school places in a number of schools.

“Our projections indicate additional places will be needed for the 2014 to 2016 intakes in some parts of the borough and the council is currently addressing this issue.

“The increase in the number of children coming through the primary school system will impact on the number of secondary school places needed in the future.

“We’ve committed funding to ensure this demand is met, even though we face a challenging economic climate due to government cuts to capital funding.”

Research carried out by the NAO showed the number of four-year-olds starting reception classes increased by around 16 per cent between 2006-7 and 2011-12, despite the number of overall school places falling by five per cent between 2004 and 2010 due to school rolls becoming smaller.

The office’s findings also indicated than around one in five primary schools across the country were full or over-capacity in May last year, and 29 per cent of local authorities were receiving less funding from the Department of Education than they needed to cope with new school places, based on pupil forecasts for the 2012-13 academic year.

Local authorities across the country are being allocated £4.3bn in capital funding by the Department for Education to fund new primary school places until 2014.