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Number of primary school children in Norfolk rises by 20pc over a decade

Children in a classroom. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

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Primary school rolls in Norfolk will have increased by 20pc in a decade by next year, pupil population figures show.

Picture: Steve Parsons

Department for Education numbers show the number of children at primary schools will have risen from 55,894 in 2009/10 to a predicted 66,951 in 2019/20.

A birth rate boom has seen the number of children starting school swell, with local authorities – which are responsible for providing places – trying to keep up. In Suffolk, the increase is predicted to be 18pc.

It has seen class sizes and schools themselves around the country expand, as heads fight to avoid the increase having impact on children’s education.

And while the figures at secondary level are much lower – a predicted increase of 4pc in Norfolk and 2pc in Suffolk – high schools are likely to feel the impact in the coming years as pupils move through the system.

Scott Lyons. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk County Council has a school-building programme worth £169m – with £138m from the government to create more places – and £21.5m spent on creating 1,699 permanent places from 2015/16 to 2016/17 alone.

The work put the county eighth in the country for the most places – 436 – created in outstanding schools in the same period.

Penny Carpenter, chairman of the council’s children’s services committee, said: “These latest figures show clearly that

Norfolk is leading the way when it comes to investing in our children’s education by building new or extended schools where they are needed.

Penny Carpenter, chair of Norfolk County Council’s children‘s services committee. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

“Of course, this programme is about far more than investing in bricks and mortar, but about supporting our schools and the county’s children to achieve their full potential in the years ahead.”

The pressure on places varies largely from community to community – the government estimates that another 1,670 new places will be needed in certain areas to meet demand in 2019/20, but says that more than 14,000 places will be spare in other areas.

Scott Lyons, Norfolk National Education Union (NEU) spokesperson, said there were risks at either end.

“You have some schools where there are dwindling class sizes, who are seeing a massive reduction in funding and roles,” he said. “But in other areas things are booming and there are classes at breaking point.

Opening of Queen’s Hill Primary School, Costessey. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY COPY: FOR:EN NEWS ARCHANT NORFOLK 2008 (01603 772434)

“More and more I think you will see one teacher in a class with 30-plus pupils.”

Supersize primaries on the increase

As numbers rise, schools themselves must inevitably grow.

Work has begun on the £4.5m expansion at Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market. Pictured with the plans is Headteacher, Matthew Try Picture: Ian Burt

The number of supersized primaries has risen in the last few years, with some around the country educating more than 1,000 pupils.

Nationally, the number of primaries with 601 to 700 pupils has jumped from 191 to 467 in the last decade.

And while we are some way from 1,000 in Norfolk, more schools are being built – or expanded – to take on 630 pupils.

Among them is Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market, which is currently undergoing a £4.5m revamp to see it grow from just over 490 to 630 youngsters.

Temporary mobile units have been destroyed to accommodate a two-storey, nine-classroom extension for its older pupils.

It will make it one of the biggest primaries in the county, joining Queen’s Hill in Costessey, Sheringham Primary, Catton Grove Primary and Robert Kett Primary in Wymondham.

Headteacher Matthew Try has said it would get rid of the school’s “growing mobile city”.

Spare spots in certain communities

While more places are needed in growing communities, there are thousands of spare spots in others.

The government figures estimate that in 2019/20 there will be 14,200 places spare at primaries and secondaries around the county. It works out as about 9.7pc of all primary spots and 13.9pc of the total at secondary schools.

The council said new – or expanded – schools were often built to accommodate future growth. Queen’s Hill Primary, in Costessey, they said, has just over 450 pupils, but can now take 630 thanks to recent work.

Areas with low or falling numbers of families with children – usually rural or coastal – also had a larger proportion of spare places at schools, they said.

It means while several schools have waiting lists every year – particularly in areas such as Norwich and Wymondham – others have empty seats. At Norfolk’s particularly small schools, a year group can attract just one or two pupils.

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