East Sussex County Council is ‘not allowed’ to establish new schools in the county, Wealden District councillors have been told.
A duty to provide new schools was removed some years ago, according to the county’s place planning manager Gary Langford.
Instead all new schools have to be free ones created under the Academies Act.
Mr Langford was speaking to members of the district council’s overview and scrutiny committee at a meeting last month.
He said the county council was working closely with the planning team at Wealden District Council about the emerging Local Plan, and the impact on education provision in the district.
And he said a wide range of factors were taken into account when forecasting future demand for school places.
These included existing pupil numbers in schools, births, GP registration totals of under-five-year-olds, school admission preference patterns, housing developments, and migration patterns.
The pupil forecasts were updated on an annual basis, and data from Wealden Council’s housing team was used to support this.
Mr Langford said additional places had been made in Hailsham and Polegate in the last five years, either by expanding existing schools, or the provision of new schools.
And he said in the coming years the county council was hoping to expand Hailsham Community College, provide more Special Educational Needs capacity in the north of the county and provide more primary, secondary and special school places to serve new developments through the emerging Local Plan.
The county council has clarified what happens when there is a need for a new school to meet basic need for additional school places.
At that point, a spokesperson said: “We have a duty to seek proposals to establish an academy (free school) via the ‘free school presumption’.
“We are responsible for providing the site for the new school and meeting all associated capital and pre-/post-opening revenue costs.
Secretary of State
“All new free school presumption proposals require the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC)’s approval (on behalf of the Secretary of State) as it is the Secretary of State who will enter into a funding agreement with the academy trust/sponsor.
“Academy trusts are able to submit proposals to the council to establish the new school during the free school presumption process. We can recommend a preferred sponsor based on the proposals submitted, but the final decision would be taken by the RSC.
“So we identify the need and provide a site, before asking academies to submit proposal.
“The newest school to open in the county was Ropemakers Academy in Hailsham, which opened in September 2020 following a free school presumption process. No other new schools are being built at the moment.”
• The rebuild of Uckfield College is being funded and delivered by the Department for Education as part of its Priority Schools Building Programme 2.
The aim of the programme is to address the needs of those schools in the very worst condition.
Uckfield College is a maintained school and will continue to be funded and controlled by East Sussex County Council.