Sunderland secondary schools fight to fill empty places

Head teacher at Farringdon Community Sports Academy, Sunderland, Howard Kemp, on their 3G Football pitch.

Head teacher at Farringdon Community Sports Academy, Sunderland, Howard Kemp, on their 3G Football pitch.

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SECONDARY schools across Wearside are battling for students with almost a quarter of September places standing empty.

While primary schools in Sunderland and nationally are struggling to find room for the huge influx of students, secondary schools are having the opposite problem.

Across the city, there are 3,315 places available for the Year 7 intake, but at the moment there have only been 2,533 applications – a fall from last year’s 2,686.

On the plus side for parents, the number of children granted places at their first school choice will be 98 per cent, compared to 96.6 per cent last year.

Although the cohort due to start secondary school in September 2013 is the smallest overall year group in recent years, census data indicates that the future year groups will increase incrementally from this point onwards.

Howard Kemp, headteacher at Farringdon Community Sports College, said: “School funding is increasingly dependent on student numbers. The fall in student numbers could have a devastating effect on school budgets.”

He said as the fall in student numbers is temporary, and expected to increase to around 3,000 pupils by 2015-17, it makes things very difficult to plan ahead because of the fluctuations.

Mr Kemp said: “The local authority supports schools with a minimum funding guarantee to help absorb large falls in funding.”

The headteacher said it is no reflection on the quality of teaching, and Sunderland secondary schools had their best results in 2012 with an average of 62 per cent of pupils gaining 5 A*-C GCSEs, including maths and English.

Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, Councillor Pat Smith, said: “As with elsewhere in the country, Sunderland’s secondary schools have been subject to falling rolls in recent years. Due to demographic changes, the demand for secondary places in September 2013 will be at its lowest level in recent years.

“This will lead to an inevitable increase in the number of surplus places across the city’s secondary schools, and will place pressure on existing school budgets. We are working with schools to support them as they respond to falling demand, but also to prepare them for the increased demand for places they will face in the years ahead.

“We recognise that the reduced demand for secondary places will enable most parents to access their first choice places in September 2013.

“We will continue to work with schools as they respond to the changing demographics across the city.”