Problems: Councillors are struggling to find locations and funding for schools
STRUGGLING: Surrey County Council leader David Hodge has admitted they council may not be able to give every child a place at school in September because of funding issues
THE future of children hoping to start school next September is in limbo after Surrey County Council leader David Hodge admitted for the first time they might not be guaranteed a place.
In one of the starkest warnings yet about Surrey’s biggest ever schools places crisis, Cllr Hodge said the council was “well short” of meeting the £84 million it needed to provide enough school places in 2015.
The council leader announced 3,000 extra school places will be needed next September, at a cost of £84 million. But with only £30 million being provided by the Government, the council faces a £54 million gap in funding.
Speaking at a meeting of the full council, Cllr Hodge also admitted they were only able to provide every child with a school place this year “by the skin of our teeth”.
In September of this year the council provided 4,138 extra school places and is predicted to need 13,000 new places in the next five years – the equivalent of 30 new primary schools.
Up to now the council has relied on being able to expand existing schools, with Ashtead’s Greville Primary School expecting to take on an extra 210 pupils and Horley’s Langshott school also set for expansion.
But now Cllr Hodge has warned that schools no longer have the space to expand and continue to provide the facilities needed. He said the only option now was to build new schools.
But in another sign the council is struggling to deal with the crisis, he also admitted locations for new schools remained a mystery, with officers struggling to find suitable sites.
“Up until now, we’ve been accommodating most of this increased demand by expanding our existing schools,” he said.
“But space around school sites, particularly in more urban areas, is quickly becoming saturated.
“Put simply, we are running out of room. What we now need is new schools, not just new classrooms.”
He added that officers at the council are “working flat out” to find sites for new schools but the high cost and low availability was making it a challenge.
Cllr Hodge appealed to the Government to provide more money for Surrey to provide school places, citing the amount of tax the county’s residents pay into the nation’s coffers.