Published: 05:00, 10 January 2022
| Updated: 15:34, 10 January 2022
Thousands more Kent secondary and special school places will be needed over the next five years.
KCC education chiefs believe there will be demand for 6,600 new secondary school places by 2026, the equivalent of of more than seven secondary schools.
Meanwhile, the pressure for Kent special school places continues to grow. The number of “permanent” special school spaces is forecast to rise by another 778 from 2022 to 2026.
Cllr Shellina Prendergast (Con), KCC’s cabinet member for education, said the authority has been "fairly spot on" with predictions for school place growth in recent years.
However, she added: “This is not without its challenges in this period, when we see roles rise in the secondary sector and the demand for specialist places increase.”
KCC's west Kent education officer, Nick Abrahams, described the forecast demand as “significant”
There are around 600 primary, secondary and special schools in Kent.
KCC has a legal duty to provide enough school places for every child and aims to give parents a choice.
The county council's plan identifies a need for additional permanent and temporary mainstream school and specialist places over 2022 to 2026.
This is based on population demographic changes, such as the number of births, migration and housing growth.
In Kent, around 15,281 children and young people had an education health and care plan (ECHP) in January 2021.
This marks an increase of 1,782 youngsters from January 2020 which is a rise of 13.2%.
One cabinet member said a balance needs to be found between special school provision and inclusion in more mainstream secondary schools.
Cllr Sue Chandler (Con), who is KCC’s cabinet member for integrated children’s services, said: “There is an ambition to build capacity within mainstream school for pupils with SEND and that is quite important.
“So the children can benefit from a good education in mainstream school.
"This has to be the preferred option, if it is good for them. We very much endorse those.”
She later added: “There will be some children where mainstream education is not appropriate and the plan addresses that.”
Demand for primary school places has been forecast to fall during the next five years.
From September 2022, the Department for Education has allocated just over £20million to expand school capacity in Kent.
However, the cash would barely be enough to fund a new secondary school with a sixth form.
More long-term solutions are being sought as the county council remains reliant on financial contributions from outside sources, such as housing developers, to help fund new schools.
KCC's education plan was agreed by the Tory cabinet at a public meeting in County Hall, Maidstone on Thursday of last week.