School place shortage piles on agony for Rugby families

The long-running issue of Rugby’s population growing faster than its facilities is adding to the pressure on families facing a cost-of-living crisis.

At the heart of the matter and determined to help, the first of Houlton's primary schools. Photo: Google Street View.
At the heart of the matter and determined to help, the first of Houlton's primary schools. Photo: Google Street View.

And the continuing issue of a shortage of school places is biting hard at present for people living in Houlton.

In last week’s Advertiser we highlighted its appearance in a national newspaper article praising the quality of its planning and design.

But we soon heard from parents who had moved there with the promise of being able to walk their children to the primary school, only to discover the reality is different from that sold to them by the developers of their new homes.

After a slow start, housebuilding has accelerated and the primary there, St Gabriel’s CofE Academy, has not been able to keep pace with demand in certain school years, leaving parents travelling miles to find a place for some children and also having children at multiple schools, meaning a further cost of out-of-school care for the child they have to drop off first.

One mum told us: “When I’m 0.2 miles from a school and I should be walking my children there, I’m driving hundreds of miles a week. I’m being forced to pay for care just to get my kids to school, not for work – I could be taking up a place for a child of a parent who needs it because of their job.”

She and others who spoke to the Advertiser all said they love living at Houlton but feel let down by the lack of places. They believe the earliest arrivals to Houlton got a good deal and that things will settle in future – but they feel they are being disadvantaged by the current situation. They have a Facebook group to support one another – but want to see action from the various authorities involved, the school, the county council and the Houlton developers Urban & Civic.

They have had regular contact with their county Cllr Yousef Dahmash who said this week: “It’s a really tough situation for any parent who either can’t get their child into their local school, or who is given a place at different schools for their children.

“The county council does monitor places closely and adjusts forecasts based on GP, housing and actual place/vacancy data. With Houlton (as with most large new developments) there are challenges for in-year applications. Rugby’s housing growth is, I believe, approximately three times the national average and this is primarily driven by growth at Houlton. The rate of growth has been quicker than anticipated placing pressure on primary places, something which all parties are acutely aware of.

"The issue is predominantly for the years above reception and Year 1 as I understand it, with families moving in unable to secure a place in the higher years as there are simply no spaces. Legislation prevents any school holding places in reserve in anticipation of future local demand so for the present Year 3 and upwards (when they were lower years) places were offered to families who applied and who lived outside of Houlton. It’s a really hard situation and not one easily resolved, but over time there will be greater balance, and places for Houlton families, at primary level as there will be more primary schools delivered.

“That’s no consolation for the families unable to secure places now and I just wish there was more I could do as the local county councillor, or that there was an easy solution.”

His thoughts were echoed by St Gabriel’s headteacher Andrew Taylor, who said: “We are acutely aware of the issues around providing school places in Houlton and are sympathetic to families unable to secure a place.

"We are keen to be part of the ongoing solution to this, growing sustainably whilst ensuring that our primary role remains to provide the best quality education we can for our children. To grow sustainably and provide more places, we are currently applying to formally increase our capacity to two forms of entry and have made a start already with increasing our capacity for new school starters.

"This needs to be carefully considered to ensure sufficient resources are available in terms of physical space, funding and personnel to deliver a high-quality education.

“There are no current plans to grow beyond a two form of entry school at St Gabriel's as we understand planning suggests a further two primary schools are due to be built in the area before a third form is considered.”

Johanne Thomas from Urban & Civic added: “The outline planning permission for Houlton includes the delivery of three primary schools and a secondary school over the life of the development. These schools are delivered by Urban & Civic, as developer, in line with our section 106 obligations by the time housing occupations reach a certain number.

"Our role is to design and build the schools and hand them over to the local authority to be operated by a multi-academy trust.

“We will continue to build schools at Houlton in line with the planning permission and where possible early as we have to date, however we understand the challenges with school places in Houlton to be linked to admissions and operation rather than a lack of classrooms or unforeseen numbers of pupils coming from its creation.”

While next steps are awaited, parents on Houlton continue to face the disruption of having children elsewhere, at other schools in Rugby and in Northamptonshire villages like Kilsby and Crick.

And however that develops, pressure remain across Rugby – and in terms of secondary places.

Labour group leader on Rugby Borough Council Cllr Maggie O’Rourke said of the big picture: “This has been going on for ages. They are building the houses but no one is thinking about the consequences for the services, whether it’s schools, health services or dentists. Nothing is being done to address very quick growth in the town.”