New school costs could leave other projects axed, councillors warned

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A new secondary school will be needed in the centre of Barnsley to cope with a spike of 900 additional new pupils within the next decade with councillors being warned other priority projects could be axed to pay for the building.

Details of how a new school would be operated have yet to be confirmed, but two multi-academy trusts are interested in opening a free school and that would attract some funding from the Government.

A decision on that will be announced in the Spring but if the free school option does not go ahead, the council will still to provide a new secondary school and a report to the council’s ruling Cabinet warns the authority will face “a significant call on council resources” to pay for the complex, even when Government grants are taken into account.

That means, a report states: “A decision will be needed in terms of deprioritising or deferring funding allocated to other schemes in order to fund the works required in order to meet our statutory obligations to provide pupil places, placing other schemes at risk of non-delivery.”

No details have been given at this stage about what projects could put at risk.

The cost of building a new school big enough for 900 pupils is currently estimated at around £14m but the total the council could expect from outside funding to support that would be £9.3m, leaving a gap the council would need to finance.

There may be more costs because any external infrastructure work – such as changing access roads – would also fall on the authority.

The need for a new school comes after Barnsley Council rationalised secondary education in the borough a few years ago, using a huge PFI deal to create a network of large modern schools and academies to replace traditional secondary schools.

A new school is needed because it is predicted there will be 900 more children needing secondary education in the 2020s than at present, a situation caused partly by the expansion of housing in the town.

The pinch point is the central area, which currently has three sites providing secondary places, and one of the difficulties will be finding a suitable site, the Cabinet will hear when they meet to consider the report.

Whatever the outcome, if a site has to be purchased for the new school, it is not expected to be available before 2022, when numbers of new pupils have already started to increase.

One option would be to put a free school in temporary accommodation, provided at the council’s expense, until the new school was constructed.