A CHRISTCHURCH primary school has forked out more than half-a-million pounds on agency staff in the last five years.

Somerford Primary School spent £510,278 between 2014 and 2019, more than any other school in the former Dorset County Council area.

Among other high spenders were The Blandford School at £213,668 and Christchurch Learning Centre at £203,234.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request and also included the amount spent on supply teachers.

Highcliffe St Mark's school spent £333,334 and Lytchett Minster spent £227,217.

Helen Frampton, head teacher of Somerford Primary School, said: "There are a number of factors that have led to our spending on agency staff. When the school was in special measures from September 2014 to March 2016 it was difficult to recruit quality teachers and teaching assistants. Since coming out of special measures in 2016 and becoming a ‘good’ school we have been able to address this.

"More recently we have a high number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who need teachers and teaching assistants with specific skills and experience. We have been unable to always recruit to these posts and the agency keep a bank of staff with the required abilities so we can place staff with the right skills in the school.

"We were one of the larger primaries in the former Dorset County Council."

Data shows some of the biggest spenders are schools with large pupil numbers or which have had teaching standards criticised by Ofsted, while others are responsible for children with complex needs.

The figures represent maintained schools which are now within the Dorset Council area, and do not include figures for academies which are independent of local authority control. Data also excludes schools within the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council area.

Cllr Andrew Parry, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for children, education and early help, said schools must do what is necessary to ensure pupils are educated properly.

"Schools and academies are directly funded from national Government. School governors and their management teams agree how each school spends their allocation,” Cllr Parry said. “They will look at the needs of the school and budget accordingly.

"Often using supply or agency staff helps provide short-term access to specialist skills and experience that the school has difficulty recruiting.

"Dorset Council has the strategic lead for education of children and young people. We have a legal duty to ensure that every child fulfils his or her educational potential."