Monday, February 6, 2023
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Schools take financial hit as reception places go begging – Farsley school loses £28k in one year

By David Spereall, local democracy reporter

Nearly 15 per cent of primary school starter places across Leeds have gone unfilled this academic year, it’s been revealed.

A collapse in the city’s birth rate has been blamed for the issue, which is placing local primary schools at risk of financial difficulty and closure in the years ahead.

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The amount of government funding schools receive directly relates to how many pupils they teach.

One Leeds headteacher said vacancies in the reception class at his school had seen tens of thousands of pounds knocked off its budget overnight.

Numbers seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) show that 1,500 places out of around 10,500 across Leeds were unfilled in September.

A meeting of the Leeds Schools Forum on Tuesday, which brings together local education leaders, heard the issue was having a “disproportionate impact” on primary schools.

Meeting chair, Peter Harris, who is headteacher at Farsley Farfield School, said: “I have to say, my school wasn’t full last September for the first time ever and that’s £28,000 in one year straight away.

“It’s quite clear that high schools aren’t feeling this in the way primary schools are feeling it, but presumably that will work its way through over the next few years.”

A serious shortage of pupils in the north-west of the city saw Queensway Primary School in Yeadon placed at risk of closure last September, though Leeds City Council later abandoned that plan following a backlash from parents.

And while there are variations in the child population across Leeds, with Cockburn High School in Beeston having been asked to take on more pupils in recent years, the overall trend is a decline in numbers.

The city council has said it has started a “factfinding” mission looking at the data and that it’s considering its overall approach to the problem.

Education officer Val Waite told the meeting: “We’ve pulled together a comprehensive spreadsheet that’s looking at all primary schools across the city and the surplus, and mapping that against other criteria, so that we’ve got a full picture of the schools and the provision within those schools.”

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