Sunday 13 October 2019

Brent Council plans for accommodating higher secondary pupil numbers via academy expansion

It is one of the ironies of Government policy that Labour Brent Council has the duty to provide school places in  the borough but not the means to do so through building its own schools. The bulge that has been moving through primary schools in now entering the secondary sector. Secondary rolls will rise as primary rolls fall.

All Brent secondary schools are now either academies or faith schools, with none under the direct control of the local authority so the Council has to negotiate with them to provide extra places or rely on additional free school provision.

Projected Numbers and Shortfall

The report going to Monday's Cabinet admits that projections are subject to external factors (such as the impact of Brexit) and so plans have some flexibility built in.

It is expected that 6 of the 10 forms of entry required for 2023/24 will be provided by the North Brent School, a free school which will be part of the Wembley Multi-Academy Trust with Wembley High Technology College. The North Brent School will open in September 2020 with four forms of entry on the Wembley High site but will increase to 6 forms of entry when it moves to the former Chancel House site in Neasden Lane in September 2022.

Due to fears that the new school will have a negative impact on other secondary schools in the Neasden area the North Brent School will have a proportion of its admission numbers allocated via proximity to Wembley High.

This leaves a four forms of entry gap for 2023-24 and the report puts forward two unnamed secondary academies for consideration to provide two additional forms of entry.  Four forms of entry at one site is rejected as too risky for one school. Temporary bulge classes, a solution in the primary sector, is rejected as not suitable to the different curriculum provision in secondary schools - pupils move to different specialist rooms rather than being in one classroom. The report claims that the temporary bulge classes would be as expensive to provide as additional permanent expansion.

So who will pay for the expansion? Extract from report LINK

5.0  Financial Implications
5.1  This report includes provision of additional mainstream and SEND secondary school places and approval to allocate capital funding is sought for both. There are two sources of grant funding available for mainstream and SEND school places.
5.2  The estimated cost of the mainstream school places is £31.3m and the SEND school places is £3.8m, making a combined estimated cost for the Secondary School Expansion Programme of £35.1m.
5.3  Capital investment is sought for the whole secondary school programme at £35.1m, noting that the Director of Finance will approve the allocation of capital from this total to individual projects within the programme on production of further detailed information. It is anticipated that this is a maximum total forecast cost, which could be reduced as the programme develops.
5.4  There are two sources of grant funding available for mainstream and SEND school places; Basic Need Capital Grant and Special Provision Capital Grant. Both are provided by Central Government for the provision of school places.
5.5  For the period 2011-2020 the Council has been allocated a total of £164.1m Basic Need Capital. After taking account of actual spend to date and current commitments, there is a balance available to allocate of £27.9m.
5.6  The local authority was allocated a total of £2.8m from the Special Provision Capital Grant specifically for the provision of SEND school places. £1.1m of this funding has been spent and/or committed. The remaining £1.7m is available to be allocated to this programme.
5.7  A total of £29.6m of secured capital grant funding is available. Based on the total estimated cost for this programme this leaves a funding gap of £5.5m.
5.8  In addition to work to reduce the estimated cost, officers have looked at potential additional sources of capital funding. In addition to the secured £29.6m, a further £11.8m may become available through other identified sources. These are capital contributions from council development projects where a portion of the capital receipt must be allocated for education purposes; those sums were previously allocated to school projects but have not yet been secured. Also from a commercial settlement on a live school expansion project. The council may also be allocated additional Basic Need capital from 2021 onwards but this is not confirmed. In the event that costs cannot be reduced and/or additional funding secured, the council would need to fund up to £5.5m.
5.9  It is proposed that all remaining unallocated capital grant is used to fund this programme. It is already known that there will be a requirement for further capital expenditure to provide SEND school places as detailed in the School Place Planning Strategy 2019-23 approved in November 2018. A feasibility study is currently underway for an additional SEND project. Proposals will be brought to Cabinet in the new year which will include proposed funding arrangements. Should requirements in the mainstream primary or secondary sectors change and require capital expenditure this would also create a funding pressure.
5.10  The revenue costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the expanded school buildings once completed will be the responsibility of each school, as will the additional staff and running costs. Mainstream schools are funded from the Schools Block of the DSG via the funding formula, which allocates funds on the basis of the prior year’s pupil numbers so there is a time lag and the Schools Forum may recommend top slicing the block to allocate more funding to support expanding schools. New in-borough SEND places will be funded from the High Needs Block of the DSG, but at lower cost than the likely alternative independent out of borough provisions.

'Various sources' is the answer with quite a lot of uncertainties involved. I am awaiting a reply from Brent Council to the following question:
As these schools are academies and not under local authority control with land and buildings on a long lease to the respective trusts, does capital funding by the authority, coming out of the Council’s budget, mean that the Council will now have a proportional capital interest in the school?  Or is it just added to the Trust’s assets?

Further is there any possibility that the DfE itself could contribute to the capital costs via the EFA?


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