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More children face missing top choice
OXFORDSHIRE’S education chief last night could not promise more families won’t miss out on their preferred school place because of rising pressure.
This year 473 youngsters did not get into any of their top three schools and last night it was revealed a further 200 places will be needed in 2013. County council cabinet member for education Melinda Tilley said: “We do our best every time to get them a first, second or third preference, but I just don’t know how it will pan out.
“We have plans in place but whether they are where parents want to send their children or not, I simply don’t know.
“But I have every confidence that county council staff will get it sorted out.”
There were 7,724 applications in September 2012, 500 more than the previous year.
Next year demand will increase by a further 200 and that pressure will continue to increase, according to education bosses.
Mrs Tilley described the issue as a “huge problem” that would be met through school expansion.
She added: “We try not to lose amenity space, particularly playing fields, but it’s never straightforward. It’s usually a compromise.”
Last year alone Oxfordshire County Council spent £6.1m providing an extra 315 school places across the county, including a new £4m sixth-form centre at the Cooper School, Bicester.
In total, 11 city primary schools are expanding or set to expand.
One school is losing a sports hall and another is even looking at hiring a Mongolian yurt – a type of tent – to provide extra space during building work.
New Marston School is halfway through its £2m building programme. It is now creating two new classrooms, refurbishing the main school hall and extending the second hall.
But its dedicated sports hall will be turned into classrooms.
Chairman of governors George Vlachonikolis said: “The first half has been successful and we have brought through three new year groups in the last three years and that’s worked extremely well.”
Headteacher Zara d’Archambaud said some concern had been raised about the loss of a sports hall.
She said the space had to be used for classrooms as the school already had enough hall space to support a two-form entry school, meaning a new-build or extension was beyond the available budget. But she said there would still be enough sporting provision.
She added: “There was a small amount of concern that we are ‘losing’ a sports hall, but this isn’t a loss, it’s a gain.
“The school will have two new classrooms as well as two halls, one especially refurbished, and the other enlarged.”
St Ebbe’s Primary School, in Whitehouse Road, is to grow from taking 45 children each year to 60 from 2013.
Headteacher Susie Bagnall, left, said: “There will be inconvenience and disruption but we will make it work.”
Building will not start until next summer and Mrs Bagnall said she was looking at buying or hiring a yurt to house one class.
She said: “We wanted something with the wow factor.
“We could use the hall or the library, but we wanted something which would enhance learning.
“This would only be for the summer term, and afterwards we would hope to use it as a reading space.”
She said the school would not lose any playing space because the car park would become play space.
Cutteslowe Primary School is also moving to a two-form entry.
Headteacher Jon Gray said: “If there are delays in the building programme we will have difficulties fitting people in.”
“We need to make sure our financial planning is very thorough so children aren’t sitting on the floor.”
Among the schools planning to expand are:
- Botley Primary School: consulting on creating a two-form entry of 60 pupils, eventually pushing numbers from 269 to 420.
- St Ebbe’s Primary School: a consultation was held this summer on giving the South Oxford school a two-form entry of 60, increasing numbers from 300 to 420.
- Orchard Meadow Primary: council permission was given in May to allow the Blackbird Leys school to take 60 pupils, swelling numbers from 315 to 420 from September 2013.
- Eynsham Primary School: the school will have a 60-pupil, two-form entry from September 2013, with 420 pupils compared to 376 now.
- Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School: the Cowley school wants to move next to St Gregory the Great School so it can increase pupils from 311 to 420.
- Cutteslowe Primary School: plans were approved to change the admission number from 30 to 60 from September 2013, a move that will increase numbers from 210 to 420.
- The following increased to 60 pupils in 2011: Bayards Hill, Barton; Larkrise, East Oxford; New Marston; Rose Hill; St Christopher’s, Cowley; Windale, Blackbird Leys and 90 at Windmill, Headington.
- 2011: In Abingdon, Dunmore Primary School expanded in 2011, Thameside and St Edmund’s primary schools are expanding this year and Carswell Primary School is set to expand next year.