Crisis that forced councils to act

30th August 1996 at 01:00
A report last January by the Accounts Commission, the Secretary of State's watchdog on public spending, which warned that surplus places in small primaries and secondaries were wasting Pounds 25 million has greatly influenced officials in central and local government.

The commission found "no clear educational arguments for closing small primary schools", but noted that low rolls lead to inflated pupil unit costs "which cannot be justified on economic grounds alone".

Managing surplus capacity in school buildings notes that 56 per cent of primaries had a roll of fewer than 200, 37 per cent had 200-400 and 7 per cent had more than 400. More than a third of primaries have more than four empty desks for every six filled. Closing a primary could save Pounds 100,000 a year.

Teaching staff account for 70 per cent of costs, property 20 per cent and 10 per cent is spent on non-teaching staff, supplies and services and administration.

The commission suggests that if closure or amalgamation is to take effect at the beginning of a school year, consultation should take place by the previous autumn. That option was not available to the new councils when they took office in April and were faced with a budget crisis that forced them to look for immediate closures.

The case for building large primaries is not made on grounds of higher pupil numbers nationally, although housing developments in an area may produce predictions of rising demand locally.

The Accounts Commission notes that a 15 per cent drop in primary pupil numbers is expected between 1990 and 2015.

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