Hertfordshire County Council as our Local Education Authority has a legal obligation to find a school place for every child living in the County. They produce six monthly estimates of the numbers of places which will be needed based on the number of children recorded in local NHS records and compare these with the numbers of places available in nearby schools.
For secondary schools estimates HertsCC uses a series of “Secondary School Planning Areas” and, as long as the number of places in schools within one of these areas exceeds the number of children of the relevant age they are satisfied that there are enough places. However the secondary school planning areas were defined over 50 years ago and are arguably no longer fit for purpose as they do not take into account the huge movements of children between them as they travel to schools preferred by their parents or where they were able to get a place.
What we defined as the Harperbury priority catchment area incorporates parts of three different HertsCC Secondary School Planning Areas. These are “St Albans” (which includes London Colney, Bricket & How Wood, Park Street and Shenley), “Bushey & Radlett” and “Borehamwood” (which includes Elstree).
The latest Herts CC estimates here show very clearly the growing deficit in places over the next few years which we identified some years ago and our school was intending to help to solve by providing an extra 120 places a year. Although HertsCC is very aware of the problem they are restricted in what they can do about it as they can no longer simply open up new schools themselves. They must find or encourage others to propose new Free Schools to meet the demand. Which was what we were trying to do of course!
So, with apologies for the concern this may cause some of you, here are the figures taken from HertsCC’s latest estimates for the three Secondary School Planning Areas which include the Harperbury catchment area (Shenley, London Colney, Bricket Wood, How Wood, Park Street, Radlett, Borehamwood & Elstree):
Academic Year Current year of children affected Surplus/Deficit of Places
2017/18 Year 5 + 21
2018/19 Year 4 – 40
2019/20 Year 3 – 210
2020/21 Year 2 – 194
2021/22 Year 1 – 254
2022/23 Reception – 376
2023/24 Pre-school – 387
HertsCC’s policy is to try to expand some existing secondary schools by adding new classes where possible but this cannot deal with the expected numbers. New schools are clearly needed but they will only consider building them in or on the edge of the largest settlements such as Watford, Hemel Hempstead of St Albans. They do not accept that any new secondary schools should be built as truly local schools for smaller settlements like Radlett or London Colney as we proposed for Harperbury.
A priority for HertsCC at the moment is to build a new secondary school in Harpenden. There is no doubt this is urgently needed. Harpenden has a population of over 30,000 and three existing secondary schools all of which are over-subscribed, so full. Familes in Harpenden have an expectation that their children should be able to attend secondary schools within their home town and this is accepted by HertsCC.
The proposed Harperbury catchment area has a population of around 34,000 and no secondary schools with our children attending over 50 different secondary schools up to 20 miles away. I think this is unacceptable and I hope you do too. If so perhaps you can consider contacting your County Councillors and MPs and your District (St Albans) or Borough (Hertsmere) Councillors to tell them so and demand some action.
It will realistically take at least three years to create a new school – or possibly longer if it hits any of the sort of problems we had with Harperbury. So if it was started now it would only just be able to pick up part of the projected deficit in places. There is no sign that HertsCC has any such plans in place for our area at all so we are simply sleepwalking towards a crisis in secondary school places locally within 2 or 3 years.