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Almost 600 extra classrooms needed in Kent schools by 2020 to meet population boom, research finds

12:15 10 October 2016

School test

School test

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Data from environmental specialist, Scape Group reveals some 581 classrooms, or 50 new schools, must be developed in the county over the coming years

Almost 600 extra classrooms need to be built in Kent schools before 2020 to cope with a booming child population, according to new data.

Research from environmental specialist, Scape Group, reveals some 581 classrooms or 50 new schools must be developed over the coming years as the number of primary and secondary school children in the county continues to rise.

Nationally, local authorities are estimating there will be an additional 729,000 primary and secondary school pupils by 2020, based on Department of Education statistics.

The number of primary school pupils in England will rise 8.6 per cent by 2020, but the greatest growth will come from secondary school pupils, set to increase by some 12 per cent.

Mark Robinson, chief executive of Scape Group, said: “As the growth of the primary school population gathers pace, the pressure on school places will soon transfer to the secondary population, requiring a new wave of advanced school building.

“The government’s preference for free schools has created uncertainty for local authorities, who are tasked with planning and building new schools, but will not be responsible for running them.

“Proposals for new grammar schools has further muddied the waters.”

Anti-grammar campaign group, Kent Education Network, recently warned of a “dystopian future” after Swale Academy Trust outlined its intention to convert Meopham School into a selective under Theresa May’s new plans to shake-up the education system.

Mr Robinson added: “Leaving the EU could have a profound effect on the UK population – we could see a short term surge in migration from Europe or a drop off in numbers if migrants are put off coming here.

“It is very difficult to predict what impact Brexit will ultimately have, putting even more pressure on local authorities who are planning how and where to prioritise school-building.

“In a post-Brexit economy, with all of the uncertainty this brings, the construction of new schools must be a top priority for government and local authorities must be given the tools and funding necessary to deliver extra places in time.

“Creative solutions including standardised design, classroom extensions and larger ‘super-schools’, as well as more effective use of land to deliver mixed-use developments, are all options we need to look at to deliver more new schools.”

Duncan Green is chairman of Perfect Circle – a consortium comprising property consultants Pick Everard, Gleeds and Aecom.

He said: “The influence of the free schools programme, ongoing academisation and constrained education budgets means local authorities, academy trusts and other education providers are, in some places, struggling to adapt and keep pace with the changing market.

“However, the positive trend we have seen in the past year is one of collaboration.

“Local authorities have begun to embrace the free school programme, working in partnership with small and large free school trusts to ensure a joined-up approach is taken on new school provision.”

Education director at construction company, Willmott Dixon, Andrew Alsbury, said: “The continued and urgent need for a well-planned long-term solution to meet rising school place demand in the face of increasing pressure on capital budgets is one of our biggest challenges over the next decade.

“It needs a joined-up approach between the public and private sectors, as well as local and central government to bridge the gap.”

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