Brentwood primary school cuts pupil numbers to save money

A Brentwood primary school is set to save more than £75,000 after permission was granted to cut the maximum number of students it can accept every year.

It means St Helen’s Catholic infant school, in Sawyers Hall Lane, can now reduce its Published Admissions Number (PAN) from 90 to 60.

This will allow savings from one teacher’s salary of £44,655, a learning support assistant on £19,137 and a kitchen staff member on £8,125.

Other savings will come from classroom’s utilities costs worth £1,946 and classroom resource costs worth £2,081.

“This would reduce the deficit for 2023/24 significantly and enable us to provide high quality first teaching and reduce the risk of staff redundancies,” St Helen’s has told the school’s adjudicator, which has agreed the request.

The school has seen its enrolment numbers steadily decease. All first preferences and some other preferences in the last three years have been offered.

In 2022 there were 59 first preferences with 60 places offered, in 2021 there were 63 first preferences and 69 places offered and in 2020 there were 69 first preferences with 80 places offered.

The school added it expects to be able to satisfy all first preferences for September 2023 – ahead of the primary school application deadline on Sunday January 15 – and as the building has not been modified it is able to go over PAN for exceptional circumstances if necessary.

In addition the housing developments planned for 2023 are largely around the areas in the south of Brentwood town where the recent primary school expansions were implemented.

The school said: “The reduction of the PAN will support the school during the temporary period of financial challenges and enable better planning for staff for future academic years with more certainty.”

The school does not anticipate having to make any redundancies.

The adjudicator said in a statement: “The local authority has informed me that it has been in conversations with the school about the school’s intention to reduce its PAN for September 2023.

“The authority’s view is that this would allow the school the flexibility to re-organise in order to improve its finances. The local authority is said not to have concerns about the proposed PAN reduction, and has confirmed that it would not cause a situation where there would be insufficient school places.”

There is said to be a predicted need for 675 Reception places in the relevant planning area for September 2023, which will lead to a surplus of 48 places.

There are schools within a two mile radius of St Helen’s Infant School that are expected to have vacancies in reception for September 2023.

The adjudicator added: “In light of the information I have received from the school, the local authority, and the diocese, I have concluded that, if the PAN for the school is reduced to 60, there will be places available at alternative local primary schools, and alternative local Catholic primary schools for any children who are unable to secure a place at St. Helen’s.

“There are alternative local schools situated within ‘reasonable walking distance’ for any child living in the area adjacent to the school. This is prescribed as two miles from the child’s home in the case of an infant aged child.

“It does not appear likely that the PAN reduction will result in any adverse environmental impact in terms of increased traffic congestion or additional burdens on public transport.

“Neither does it appear likely that there will be any adverse impact upon other local schools. I find that the variation is justified by the change of circumstances which has been identified by the admission authority.

“The school, the local authority and the diocese all consider that reducing the PAN to 60 will enable the school to establish a workable class structure going forward and to make much-needed financial savings whilst not disappointing any or many parents who name the school as a first preference.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter