Thursday, 20 February 2020

School to cut entrants by one third as demand falls

WATLINGTON Primary School is planning to cut the number of children it admits by a third from next year.

It wants to reduce the number of places it offers from 45 to 30 from September 2021.

The school says the number of pupils joining has declined in recent years and it has not had an intake of more than 40 children in the last six years.

Some members of Watlington Parish Council are concerned that demand for primary places will increase with the amount of housing development taking place in the town.

More than 300 new homes are due to be built on the three sites allocated for development in the town’s neighbourhood plan, which passed a referendum in 2018.

However, the school says pupil numbers in its catchment area are forecast to decrease in Oxfordshire County Council’s pupil place plan.

It says: “We have already seen this decrease in the last three years.  2014 was the most recent year in which the reception intake was over 40 pupils.

“Local housing development has not materialised and there are currently only limited plans in place. Other local schools are also under their pupil admission numbers.”

The school’s reception year intake was 27 pupils in 2017, 32 in 2018 and 31 in 2019.

The school says: “Reducing numbers to a single form intake will enable us to staff the school more efficiently and offer our parents a more consistent model of single age group classes. 

“Reducing to a single form intake will enable us to make better financial forecasts and manage the school budget more effectively over time.

“A reduction in our pupil admission numbers could be reversed should pupil numbers begin to grow year on year. The site and space could still support 45 should future needs become apparent.”

Sarah Wood, who chairs the governors, said: “As soon as we have the demand we can put that back up again. We have to take action to manage ourselves as effectively as we can on the information we have at the moment.

“If we find these houses are built we know the types of ratios we need to cater for the primary school children.”

She said the school managed its budget to get the best for its children, adding: “This just allows us to do this a bit more.”

The cut in number would not mean any job losses.

Parish council chairman Matt Reid said: “I believe they are doing the right thing based on the information that is currently available.

“You don’t get pupil placement funding for that year, it happens in retrospect. If you make a forecast and that forecast is wrong it can end up out of kilter. They can only plan on what’s in front of them.”

Councillor Reid said no decisions had yet been made on the sites allocated for housing in the neighbourhood plan.

He added: “The big worry for people at the council is the school is going to be at capacity once these houses come along but we know they are coping at present.”

A consultation on the plans ended earlier this month.

The school, which became an academy under the Acer Trust last year, said that its governors would meet to consider the responses and then decide whether or not to proceed with its plan.

A final decision will be made by February 28.

The catchment area for the school includes Brightwell Baldwin, Britwell Salome, Christmas Common, Clare, Cut Mill, Cuxham, Easington, Greenfield, Howe Hill, Northend Court, Northend, Portobello, Pyrton, Shirburn, Stoke Talmage, Upperton and Watlington.

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