Monday, 26 July 2021

Sudden drop in school intakes

Sudden drop in school intakes

FAMILIES with young children can’t afford to live in Henley because of high house prices, claims a town councillor.

Michelle Thomas spoke out after the Henley Standard discovered that the town’s state primary schools recorded an overall fall in the number of new pupils this academic year.

A Freedom of Information request shows that just one of the four primaries had a full intake of reception pupils in September and two took in just half of their allocation.

Valley Road School and Badgemore School in Hop Gardens each had room for 30 new children but accepted 16 and 15 respectively. Sacred Heart School in Greys Hill had 20 new starters out of a possible 30.

Only Trinity School in Vicarage Road was able to take its maximum of 45. Shiplake Primary School had 21 new starters, seven less than it could have taken.

Councillor Thomas, a member of the neighbourhood plan working group, said the figures could reflect the price of houses. She said: “There’s an affordability crisis in this country and the Government has not addressed it.

“The figures would be higher if we had not just affordable housing in Henley but social housing too.”

The statistics, which came from Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, suggest that all the schools have seen their annual intakes decrease, on average, over the past 10 years.

Badgemore primary, which had a £700,000 extension in 2014 to increase the capacity from just over 100 pupils to 210, hasn’t had a full reception class in the last 10 years.

The extension included a new classroom and the refurbishment of the main hall, entrance area, kitchen and staff room.

However, four years later, the school had its lowest intake with only three pupils despite having 30 places available.

Headteacher Tim Hoskins said the new intake in September this year would be 25, which would be the second highest figure since 2017. Its largest intake of 27 was in 2012.

Mr Hoskins said: “The house prices are expensive and reduce the number of families coming into the area, which in turn affects school places.

“It’s an issue here more so than other areas as there’s 125 pupils coming in on average each year but there are 160 places throughout the whole of Henley and there will always be those places until pupil numbers increase.”

Valley Road primary has had an average of 28 new starters per year, two less than capacity, over the past decade and this year’s figure of 16 was its lowest in that time.

Headteacher Tim Coulson said this year’s intake would be back up to 30.

He said the number of people moving to Henley was “low”, which would impact pupil numbers.

“People tend to move from London when their children are two or three but that doesn’t seem to be happening anymore,” he said. “There also doesn’t seem to be any massive house building happening here compared with the likes of Wallingford but we are smaller than them.”

Mr Coulson added: “We tried to find why our intake this year was so low. The main reason was because we were oversubscribed last year so a lot of people may have thought they wouldn’t get in and didn’t put us as their first choice.”

Sacred Heart primary has not had a full reception class of 30 pupils since 2014 and has a 10-year average of 23. Its lowest figure of 14 was recorded in 2015.

By comparison, Trinity School has almost been at full capacity for the last 10 years with an average of 43 new starters out of a possible 45 each year.

Shiplake primary can take up to 28 new pupils each year, which it exceeded in 2016, but two years later recorded its lowest intake of 11. Its current 10-year average is 23.

Cllr Thomas, whose children Tom, 15, and Eleanor, 12, attended Trinity Primary School, said: “I would love to see our schools lovely and full but people are living longer so there isn’t a churn of housing.

“We have a higher-than-average aged population of plus-65 in Henley and it’s above average for South Oxfordshire. I would like to see a balanced population.”

Cllr Thomas said house prices was just one factor having an effect.

“There’s all sorts of things we have to take into account like transport and employment opportunities,” she said. “Henley is one just town in a nationwide picture of low fertility rates, bad housing rates and stagnant wages. The average wage is not going to be able to purchase you a house.

“The town council can’t do anything without the Government addressing the affordability crisis.”

But Cllr Thomas said the town had the capacity to support more housing.

She said: “I understand where people are coming from as if there are extra houses where will people go to school or where will they get GP appointments but, rest assured, we have the room.

“We have 20 parishes relying on us for their local food shop or GP so I am more worried about places like Shiplake getting more houses. The message to the people of Henley is that we have the capacity and we want to see our schools full.”

Fellow town councillor Kellie Hinton, whose daughter, Hallie, 10, attends Trinity primary, said: “We rent in Henley and it’s difficult.

“It’s all to do with house prices as people who grew up here can’t necessarily afford to live here as house prices are ridiculous and they have to move away to places like Didcot, which has the capacity.

“It’s not necessarily only a bad thing — I can’t get on to the property ladder but it’s because we live in a really wonderful town and that comes at a price. I don’t imagine house prices will go down any time soon but we do need more affordable and social housing.

“Compared with other towns and parishes, we just have the most amazing schools in Henley.

“My concern is the financial impact. If you take somewhere like Badgemore, which would get a maximum of 30 new parents each year fundraising for events, and you cut that in half, you also cut the funding and the efforts in half.”

All the schools have been rated “good” by the education watchdog Ofsted in the last six years with the exception of Trinity, which was rated “outstanding” in 2017.

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