BOURNEMOUTH council – which is grappling with a crisis in primary school places – was actively cutting spaces six years ago.
As reported yesterday, around 160 families in the borough did not get their children into any of their three preferred primary schools – with some parents facing giving up their jobs or homes as a result.
The Daily Echo submitted a Freedom of Information request to Bournemouth council, asking for all the information it held on projected pupil numbers in the run-up to the decision to close Townsend School in 2008.
This shows that as recently as January 2007, council officers were saying that pupil numbers were still falling and there was a 10 per cent of surplus of places at primary schools.
In some schools, the surplus was even higher. In 2006/7, only 44 out of 60 reception places at Elmrise were taken up, 36 out of 60 at Heathlands, 43 out of 60 at King’s Park, 31 out of 60 at Kingsleigh, 50 out of 60 at Kinson, 68 out of 90 at Malmesbury Park, 24 out of 60 at Pokesdown, 59 out of 90 at St Clements and St Johns, 15 out of 30 at Townsend and 69 out of 90 at Winton.
As a result, places were removed at Elmrise, Kingsleigh, King’s Park, Heathlands and Queen’s Park infant school and Townsend was closed.
However, the same document warned: “Birth rates are now predicted to start to increase gradually in the borough, a reversal of the previous decline.
“The borough is also experiencing a growth in immigration. These two factors suggest that the current decline in pupil numbers may slow, but numbers are unlikely to increase, at least in the next five years.”
By the end of 2008 – the year in which Townsend was closed – councillors were told they would need to expand 11 primary schools to create almost 200 extra places by September 2010. A further 180 were needed for September 2011.
This meant that many of the same schools that had been reduced were hastily expanded again, including King’s Park, Elmrise, Queen’s Park Infants, Kingsleigh and Winton, Heathlands and Pokesdown. Other spaces were created at St Michael’s, Corpus Christi, Christ the King, Kinson, St Katharine’s and Muscliff.
This has still not been enough and the council has had to continue creating further reception classes and continuing with expansions that were supposed to be temporary. This task has got more difficult year on year as options for expansion become more limited.