BOURNEMOUTH'S primary schools are struggling to cope with a nearly 50 per cent increase in students over the past few years, the council says.

Council cabinet member for education Nicola Greene said new schools were in development to meet the demand, but there was also a shortage of per-pupil funding as increasing chunks of government schools funding are going to support special needs services.

Earlier this month the headteacher of Epiphany Primary School in Shillingstone Drive, Dave Simpson, warned that the school might have to start closing early on Fridays if adequate funding is not provided.

At a council meeting, members heard from Epiphany parent Michelle Abada who said: "A real terms reduction in funding of £250,000 over the last five years has already caused a loss of teaching assistants and leadership staff, a reduction in general resources, an inability to recruit and retain experienced teachers, a reduction in PE and music teaching."

She urged the council to seek extra cash for the special needs budget from elsewhere.

Cllr Anne Rey said many parents had contacted her and fellow ward councillors expressing similar concerns. "The present funding formula is clearly not working," she said.

Cllr Greene said financial pressures in Bournemouth's schools were reflected nationally, but added: "Bournemouth has faced an unprecedented increase in the number of primary age pupils seeking a school place in the borough.

"That has risen by nearly 50 per cent in recent years.

"The council has addressed this by investing over £85 million of capital in the local school estate, expanding and improving existing facilities and creating three entirely new primary schools."

She added: "A further cost is that the designated schools grant (from government) also bears the cost of new duties relating to 19 to 25 year olds in need of special support, and the grant not being increased to take account of this."

She said the special needs demand had led to an overspend for several successive years, with each overspend incorporated into the special needs budget for the following year's funding.

However, Cllr Greene said there could be good news on the horizon for Bournemouth's schools as the Government's new national funding formula, applying the same needs assessment criteria to every school in England, will see their funding increased.

The changes are proposed to come into effect in the next tax year.

"The allocation of additional resources at a national level and the move to a national funding formula that reflects the low level of funding Bournemouth schools currently receive are welcome," she said.

"However these changes will take time to come into effect."