Could all-through schools ease strain on school places?
More schools which would take children from age four up to 16 could be created as part of a wider scheme aiming to ease the strain on Norfolk's school places.
The county will welcome an extra 65,000 homes over the next decade and – already faced with a rising birth rate – Norfolk County Council is preparing to provide thousands of extra school places to cope with demand.
On Tuesday, the council's children's services committee will consider how best to meet demand, particularly in key growth areas including Norwich, Thetford, Hethersett, Wymondham and Great Yarmouth.
The council's updated Schools Local Growth and Investment Plan (SLGIP), which the committee will be asked to adopt, says creating all-through schools, which combine primary and secondary phases, could be an 'mechanism' for handling demand for secondary school places, as the schools could 'grow with pupils'.
Areas surrounding Norwich look likely to be the focus – a £26m high or all-round school is planned for north Norwich, possibly on the current Sprowston park-and-ride site, while the report says 'viable all-through schools' could provide long-term solutions for places such as Costessey and Easton.
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A spokesman for the council said it was an option to be explored 'as we plan for new secondary age pupils'.
'Even in the context of major growth, the number of houses necessary to provide a new high school is considerable, and in the early years a high school may not be full in all year groups. The concept of all-through high schools in growth areas allows a new primary school to grow into the secondary years as its pupils move on.'
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The report reveals that the number of pupils at mainstream schools in the county jumped by just under 1,500 from 2016/17 to 2017/18 – to 103,275.
In 2015, the council said it would need to provide almost 7,800 primary and 2,180 secondary places over the next 15 years, and the report confirms it is planning for 830 additional places for the next two years alone.
Unions have previously warned that stretched schools could lead to overcrowded classrooms, ongoing expansion work and pupils having to travel further to study if they missed out on a local place.
Ian Clayton, headteacher at Thorpe St Andrew School, said it could also see the choice of where to send children taken out of parents' hands.
'What it could mean for schools is that they will be able to take fewer out of catchment area pupils,' he said.
'From our 300, there are about 50 places that will be filled up by pupils who live outside the catchment area. But if we see more and more local pupils apply, it may be that the 250 gets closer to the 300.'
The report lays out council priorities for the coming year to push up the number of places, including formalising time scales and funding for major growth areas and plans for the north Norwich growth triangle, which spans from Old Catton to Rackheath and is due to see more than 12,000 new homes built.
It also identifies the Norwich Northern Distributor Road speeding up development – and therefore pupil numbers – as a risk, as well as the continued financial strain on small schools.
Despite the squeeze on school places, more than 90pc of primary pupils in Norfolk and Suffolk landed a place at their first-choice school last year. In 2016, an official forecast from the Department for Education said an extra 750,000 school places would be needed in England by 2025 to keep up with demand.
Litcham School is one of just two all-through schools up and running in the county.
In 2012, faced with dwindling resources, staff at the village's primary and secondary schools decided to put their futures on more stable footing and merge.
Today, the schools – just a few minutes apart on foot – share facilities, staff and back room functions.
Headteacher Rob Martlew
said the continuity meant teachers better understood their pupils.
'We are accountable for their outcomes all the way through,' he said.
'Our specialist staff work with younger pupils, which means we can teach specialist areas of the curriculum that other primaries might find it difficult to deliver.
'I'm a real advocate of all-through schools – I think there are lots of benefits.'
He said combining two schools also gave them greater purchasing power and meant they could streamline back office roles, upping their efficiency.
Although Wymondham was initially expected to take 2,200 homes over the next few years, its good transport links and proximity to Norwich has seen it become popular with developers.
New schemes have seen the town's total number of expected homes rise to more than 3,000.
The strain on infrastructure is often mentioned by residents as a worry, and many of the town's schools are at capacity.
The report says all three of its primary schools are expected to be full by this year, and the council is exploring how more pupils can be accommodated before a new school – included as part of a 1,200-home scheme in Silfield – opens in 2019.
Despite expansion, Wymondham High Academy continues to come under pressure for places, while Wymondham College is also at capacity.
Doug Underwood, a Wymondham town councillor, warned that unless action were taken to secure more places, there could be 'critical consequences'.
'I think there is likely to be huge, tremendous strain on school places over the coming years,' he said.
'Wymondham is growing at a faster rate than many other areas in the county and if something isn't done to make sure schools are an essential part of the developments, there could be real consequences.
'Children may have to travel miles to go to a school they want to, for example.'
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