Downham Market Academy may have to turn 30 families down in 2024 due to lack of spaces, says Norfolk county councillor Andrew Jamieson
A number of students look set to miss out on their preferred school due to the lack of spaces in an ever-growing area of West Norfolk.
The maximum number of Year 7 students Downham Academy can normally accept is 240, but recent negotiations with Norfolk County Council have resulted in that limit being increased to 270.
However, with 300 families looking to secure a spot at the school for next year, at least 30 look set to miss out on the first choice for their children.
Cllr Andrew Jamieson, the deputy leader of the county council, told the Lynn News that this is largely down to an increase in homes being built around Downham, with more people moving to the area and therefore more students to cater for.
He described Downham as an “outlier” in this regard, and said few other schools across Norfolk are experiencing similar issues.
“It is, if you like, a problem caused by success in my opinion,” Cllr Jamieson said.
“They have made great strides, and so more and more parents want to send their kids there.
“That brings additional pressures, so we are speaking to them because we want to keep the planned expansion going.”
Mark Eastwood, head teacher at the school, has said that any students not offered a place at their school of choice are allocated an alternative by the county council.
The school’s website says that applications for places should be made in accordance with the council’s admissions arrangements, referred to as the ‘transfer to secondary school admission round’.
Parents are told to only complete an admission form on the school website form once they have been offered a place by the county council.
Cllr Jamieson said the next stage to tackle the lack of spaces at Downham is cracking on with an expansion of the school.
He believes this will “do a lot to relieve some of the pressure”.
In the meantime, however, the county council is in dialogue with Cambridgeshire County Council regarding the possibility of sending some of the unsuccessful students across the county border for their learning.
With plans in place for a new secondary school in the Wisbech area, this idea could soon come to fruition. However, those plans have been struck by delays in recent years.
“We speak a lot together, and we don’t let the border cause undue difficulty for residents just because there is a border,” Cllr Jamieson added.
“The fact that they are planning a new school, probably in Wisbech, is something we are well aware of, and that will help us find the right place for pupils.
“Obviously, we would still wish to provide enough spaces currently for those close to Downham to go to Downham if that is where they want to go.”
The county council recommends that parents choose three preferred schools for their children, and says choosing only one does not increase the chances of getting a place at that school.
The authority’s website says that living in the catchment area for a school can increase the chances of getting a place at that school, but does not guarantee it.
The council’s admissions policy for Downham Academy, which says the school was also over-subscribed for 2022, says children who have a statement of special educational needs which names the school will be admitted.
It says remaining spaces are allocated according to the following criteria, in order of priority:
- Children in care
- Children who live in catchment area, attend primary schools within the catchment area and who have a sibling at the school at the time of admission
- Children who live in the catchment area with a sibling at the school at the time of the admission
- Children who live in the catchment area who attend the primary schools within it
- Children of staff who have been employed at the Academy for at least a year at the time of application or have been recruited to fill a vacant post for which there is a “demonstrable skill shortage”
- Children who live in the catchment area
- Children who live outside the catchment area, who attend primary schools within it and who have a sibling at the school at the time of admission
- Children who live outside the catchment area who have a sibling at the school at the time of admission
- Children who live outside the catchment area who attend the primary schools within the catchment area
- Children who live outside the catchment area, but nearest the school as measured by a straight line
Where places are oversubscribed within any of the above groups, priority is given to children living closest to the Academy.
This is measured by a straight line between the school’s main entrance and the front door of the property where the child normally lives.