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Bradford cuts primary school places amid falling birthrates

Birth rates in Bradford in 2018 were at their lowest levels since 2005

Falling birthrates in Bradford will require some local primary schools to reduce their pupil numbers – or face big funding reductions.

This week Bradford Council’s decision making Executive approved plans to reduce the pupil admission numbers at two schools – Carrwood Primary School in Holme Wood and Low Ash Primary School in Shipley.

They heard that recorded birth rates in Bradford in 2018 were at their lowest levels since 2005 – and this meant schools that were once struggling to find space for new pupils were now left with dwindling pupil numbers.

A school’s funding is directly related to the number of pupils attending the school, so too many vacancies mean that schools do not receive the maximum possible revenue.

Although there was a “bulge” in birth rates several years ago, this has now passed through primary schools, with pressure now on the secondary school system.

The reduction in pupil numbers will begin in September 2021, with Carwood’s pupil admission number falling from 60 to 30, and Low Ash’s PAN falling from 90 to 60.

It means that eventually Carwood would have half as many pupils as it currently has.

Carrwood Primary School went from taking on 30 reception aged children to 60 in 2011 after a rise in the number of school aged children in the area.

The report says: “Data received from the NHS shows that the number of younger children living in this area who will require a school place in the coming years is lower than the number of school places available.”

There are currently 470 reception places in the School area Carwood falls within. By September 2023 there are expected to be just 369 reception aged children in the area, although a development of 270 homes is currently under construction across the border in the Leeds part of Tyersal – and some children in this development may attend the school.

Last year the PAN for Low Ash rose from 60 to 90. Bradford Council had granted permission for a number of housing estates in the area, but those developments have so far failed to materialise.

The Council attempted to bring the PAN back down to 60 by 2019, but this was blocked by the Schools Adjudicator, who said the Council had left it too late to make the change, as 77 families had already listed the school as a first choice for that September.

At Tuesday’s Executive meeting Councillor Geoff Winnard, (Cons, Bingley) raised the history of Low Ash and the Council’s previous attempt to reduce the PAN, calling it a “shambles.” He asked what lessons the Council had learned from the situation, saying: “It can’t be ideal for schools if admission levels are going up and down like a yo-yo.”

Imran Khan, Executive for Education, Employment and Skills, said: “The Torys have got to stop playing politics with our schools. We have to make sure our schools are financially viable.”

He said Shipley MP Philip Davies and Conservative Baildon Councillors had written to the schools adjudicator to block the plans to alter Low Ash Primary’s numbers.

Between 2017 and 2018 fertility rates in Yorkshire and the Humber fell by 4 per cent.

Nationally 2018 fertility rates have dropped from the last “peak” in 2012 by almost 10 per cent.

Professor Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield said: “Across all developed countries birth rates have been declining since the 1970s. You need at least 2.1 children per couple to have sustainability. The Office of National Statistics says the UK has been consistently below two since the mid 1970s – the figure occasionally wobbles a bit, but it has been consistently below two.

“I can’t explain the wobbles, they may be to do with the performance of the local economy or recessions, but in general people are having fewer children than the previous generation.

“It is a function of education and the economy. Couples are waiting longer to settle down and have children, women are choosing to go into education and work first.

“There has been a huge social shift.”

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