More spending on schools needed to accommodate increasing number of pupils

School children

Without additional spending on schools, Bedford Borough will soon run out of school places, a senior councillor has said.

The council’s portfolio holder for education and children’s services, councillor James Valentine (Labour, Kempston West) told the council’s executive committee (Wednesday 23 November) that the council’s Schools Capital Programme has three phases to increase pupil capacity.

“The first is projects which are currently in delivery to open for September 2023,” he said

“The second is projects which need to open in September 2024 and which require capital allocations.

“And the third category is projects for September 2025 which need further feasibility work and indicative capital.

“But it’s worth remembering that without additional capital works on our school buildings, both expansions and new builds, there would be a deficit of school places in Bedford Borough Council in 2023 and beyond,” he said.

A report presented to the executive said forecasts suggest that the total number on the school roll by the 2027/28 academic year will be 16,992 primary-age pupils and 13,781 secondary-age pupils.

This will be an increase of 738 primary-age pupils and 1,958 secondary-age pupils compared to January 2022.

“The school capital programme outlined in this paper will bring sufficient numbers of primary and secondary school places to meet the increasing demands caused by housing development and migration into the borough,” councillor Valentine added.

Bedford mayor, Dave Hodgson, said: “On top of the recent planning permission for the special needs and disability school, on top of ten schools we’ve built since 2009, and hundreds of temporary classrooms, this report adds another two schools to that and an additional 40 classrooms.

“I can’t help but notice the difference between this and how many GP surgeries we’ve had as we continue to grow [as an area].

“I’ve asked the NHS, ‘how many new GP surgeries have you built in the same period of time?’

“Whether we like it or not, we are the fastest growing local authority in the East of England, it is important that we build these schools to make sure our young people are educated.

“It is also important that we actually have GP spaces so our public and our residents are kept healthy.

“I continue to press them to match us in terms of the GP surgeries build to our school build, and I’m hopeful that will happen soon,” he said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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