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Royal Borough education chief: 'We don't have a deficit of school places'

James Harrison

Parents have been promised that there is no shortage of senior school places in the Royal Borough.

And provision of education space is so healthy in Windsor and Maidenhead, the borough is even running a 10 per cent surplus, the council’s education chief has claimed.

Cllr Natasha Airey (Con, Park), cabinet member for Children’s Services, was responding to a report released by the Local Government Association (LGA) last week which claimed about half of local authorities in England and Wales are facing a shortfall in senior school places in the next five years.

“For the Royal Borough, we don’t have a deficit of places,” she said.

“We’ve got a £30m expansion programme which started through cabinet last July and there’s updates coming which demonstrate we’re meeting the need for the existing children in the primary system and we will also meet a 10 per cent excess.”

According to the LGA, which represents the interests 230 local authorities in England and Wales at national level, more than 125,000 children across the country could miss out on a secondary school place by 2022/23.

This has been driven by a population surge which has seen about 600,000 extra primary school places created since 2010.

And the organisation has warned that 66 councils could fall into deficit by 2022/23.

Cllr Airey, however, is confident this does not apply to the Royal Borough.

She added: “We will be reporting in October the significant infrastructure we will be delivering to provide for our existing cohort and how we will deliver the additional space needed up to nearly 2040.”

She also queried the methods behind DfE figures released in April, on which the LGA has based its claims, which said the borough has no ‘firm plans for delivery’ of school places in the next academic year [2018/19].

“We’ve got the Windsor Boys’ and Girls’ Schools expansion, we’ve got Furze Platt Senior School out to tender and Dedworth Middle School is in the process of expanding,” she said.

“Cabinet has approved a plan and we’re out to tender and we’re out to expand these schools.

“I would say it’s absolutely firm – there’s no way it’s not happening.”

Another bone of contention for the LGA has been the role of academies and free schools which are free of local authority control and which cannot be compelled to expand or take on more pupils as need dictates.

But this was also rejected by Cllr Airey, who said the Royal Borough has a ‘very good relationship’ with its schools.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Securing new secondary places in the areas where they are needed is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Councils are working with one hand behind their backs to help as many pupils as possible receive a place at their first choice school.

“If we are to avoid this looming secondary school places crisis, councils need to be able to force existing academy schools to expand if voluntary agreement is impossible and must be given back powers to open new maintained schools themselves.”

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