New secondary school for Cheltenham 'inevitable'
BUILDING a new secondary school in Cheltenham could be "inevitable".
Campaigners fighting the development of thousands of homes across the borough believe it might be needed to cope with the growing number of children.
Education provision in Cheltenham already appears to be feeling the strain with one in four children of secondary school age going to school elsewhere.
Now spikes in birth rate and the pressure of future planned housing developments could lead to a shortfall in secondary school places across the county.
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After the number of children born in Gloucestershire reached its highest level in 20 years in 2010, education chiefs have acknowledged they will have to provide more places to accommodate extra secondary school pupils in the future.
Shire Hall bosses insist there are currently enough school places to meet demand.
But the birth rate increase means they are expecting a shortfall of places by September 2018.
But there are fears this could happen even earlier depending on how quickly proposed housing developments are built.
Kit Braunholtz, chairman of Leckhampton Green Land Action Group (Leglag), said the impact of proposed housing developments will "inevitably" lead to either a new secondary school or major expansion of existing schools within the next five years.
He said: "They are proposing to build a primary school as part of the plans in Leckhampton, but there doesn't seem to be any spare space in secondary schools.
"Children here often have to go long distances to find a place and this development would put more pressure on."
The authority is due to talk to schools in October about how it is planning to deal with the increased demand.
It has already committed to providing an extra 15 permanent and 75 temporary primary school places in Cheltenham and 120 temporary primary school places in Gloucester this September to deal with the birth rate increase.
Plans have been put forward to build a primary school, but no secondary school, by developers wanting to put up 1,300 homes in Leckhampton.
But the consortium behind the proposal could be required to make a financial contribution to secondary school facilities. Spokesman for the consortium, Ally Kennedy, said: "The consortium understands that a financial contribution to secondary school facilities will be sought by the county council."
According to the county council, 98 per cent of Gloucestershire's 6,447 pupils who applied for a secondary school places this year were allocated a space at one of their preferred schools.
It comes after Chris Healy, headteacher at Balcarras School, in Charlton Kings, said in February that an expected increase in pupil numbers could trigger the need for a major new secondary school in the next four years.
Cheltenham's birth rate in 2010 rose to 1,385 having hovered around the 1,100 mark 10 years earlier.