Herefordshire Council will discuss the potential expansion of a Hereford Secondary School at a meeting next week.

The meeting will discuss the expansion of Aylestone School in Hereford, to help enable the city to cope with increased population numbers.

Documents shared by Herefordshire Council said:

Herefordshire Council set to consider approving the expansion of Aylestone School to accommodate additional pupils admitted from September 2026 in response to rising numbers in Hereford City.

It is Recommended that:

(a) Cabinet agree to progress with the permanent expansion of Aylestone High School;

(b) Subject to securing planning consent, Aylestone High School is expanded to enable its permanent expansion to five forms of entry (150 pupils per year group) at a cost of not more than £13.1m including fees and contingency;

(c) Delegated authority for award of procurement contracts for the lifecycle of the project, is given to the Corporate Director, Children and Young People.

(d) The Service Director, Education, Skills and Learning, be authorised to take all operational decisions necessary to implement the above in consultation with the S151 Officer and the Cabinet Members for Children and Families and Commissioning, Procurement and Assets.

Alternative options

Expand Whitecross High School – this would be our preferred option, as there is a significant shortage of capacity at the school. However, the school is part of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract for which the Council pays a unitary charge to the PFI contractor. The council explored what the impact of an extension at Whitecross would have on the PFI contract. 

Although the landlord was agreeable for the school to expand, it was identified that there would be a significant uplift in the annual unitary charge which has meant that any expansion, at this time, would not be financially viable, and therefore this option is not recommended.

Expand Kingstone High School – this was explored in detail and remains an option for the future, but not recommended at this time. A decision to expand Kingstone by one form of entry (1FE = 150 pupils) was due to be heard by Cabinet in November 2022 (to be closely followed by a further 1FE expansion proposal for Aylestone High School), but was later withdrawn to allow for: additional options to be considered following feedback during pre-cabinet scrutiny; and, further analysis identified a greater need for places in the city. Despite a number of housing developments in its catchment, Kingstone High School has the physical capacity to serve all the children in its catchment, meet the demand of the developments and provide the majority of places requested by parental preference. 

Any expansion at Kingstone, at this time, would result in transporting learners from the city to the Golden Valley and therefore would not align with the council’s commitment to climate change.

Key considerations

Ensuring there are sufficient school places to meet parental demand is a statutory duty for councils. This means that councils must make population and pupil forecasts in order to anticipate changes in demand. Where additional places are required the council is responsible for securing them. This applies to maintained schools, voluntary controlled schools, voluntary aided schools, free schools and academies.

Every year the council is required to make a school capacity (SCAP) return to the Department for Education (DfE). This includes information about the number of children on roll in each school planning area by age, as well as details of the capacity of schools.

The data from the SCAP return has, over recent years, identified building pressure on places in the north of the city, mainly at Whitecross High School, but increasingly at Aylestone School (which neighbour each other’s catchment area). To put this into context, using Autumn Term 2021 data, 1189 learners have Whitecross as their nearest school, it has a capacity of 945. Likewise, Aylestone has 695 learners living closest and a capacity of 450. Both schools had a waiting list following admissions allocations in September 2022.

Additional capacity is now required to meet growing numbers in the north of the city. We are unable to build capacity at Whitecross, for the reasons outlined in paragraph 1 therefore additional capacity at Aylestone School would relieve the overall pressure in the north of the city whilst still allowing those who might sit in the catchment of Whitecross High School to be able to walk or cycle to Aylestone School.

Where demand exceeds the capacity of the schools, the DfE allocates a formula-based “basic needs” grant. This is intended to contribute towards the capital costs of adding places. The council has approx. £6.5m of basic need grant remaining from previous years’ allocations. The DfE announced early in 2022 that the council will receive a further £9.5m over the next 3 years to increase primary and secondary capacity across the county. Some of this grant will be used to fund the project.

This project seeks to address the immediate need for secondary places. In parallel, over the next 12 months, a longer term strategy, on school place planning, will be developed. This will be informed by the Herefordshire Local Plan 2021-2041 which is due to go out to public consultation later this year.

Aylestone School is located just off Aylestone Hill (A465). It currently has a capacity of 450 pupils but it has in the past had a capacity of 1250. This was reduced in 2003 (capacity 900), 2010 (capacity 750) and most recently in 2017 where it has been operating at 450.

During this time of reduced capacity, Broadlands primary has moved onto the site and dilapidated buildings/mobiles have been removed. As a result, in order to expand, additional accommodation will be required. The proposed expansion would allow for 150 learners per year group (total capacity of 750).

A feasibility study was commissioned to identify what opportunities there are at the school to expand. As part of the study, a curriculum gap analysis was undertaken to show deficit and surplus of existing provision compared to the schedules of accommodation requirements, as defined in the DfE’s Building Bulletin 103 Area Guidelines for Schools.

The study identified that the increase in capacity causes the school to be under-provided for accommodation in several areas: with under-provided and under-sized general and specialist teaching spaces, an under provision of a suitable sports hall and under provision of administration, storage and toilet areas.

This project chiefly addresses the need for the required additional spaces, through some remodelling and a new build teaching block and sports hall which will be designed and built in such a way that it can be added to in the future.

Aylestone School comprehensively updated their School Travel Plan in July 2022, and the Assistant Head teacher is in regular contact with the Council’s School Travel Plan Co- ordinator. Their travel survey showed that current student travel methods are: – Walk 46% – Car 35% – Bike/Scoot 3% – Park & Stride 3% – Other (bus etc) 11%. The current cycle parking provision has been identified as a barrier to cycling, and the school are keen to improve this. Road safety measures have included ‘Parking Pals’ signs to encourage parents who drive to school to park away from school gates, and information provided to encourage parent drivers to park at Aylestone Park instead – the school’s designated ‘alternative parking’. Broadlands Primary which is also located on this campus updated their School Travel Plan in 2022. Their travel survey showed that the current travel methods of pupils are: Walk 55% – Bike/scoot 11% – Car 48% – Park & Stride 7% – Other 1%. They also participated in Walk to School Week 2022 and the pupils collectively walked 652km and participate annually in the Council’s Road Safety education programme for schools.

In a bid to increase the number of students accessing the schools by active travel means, the project will work alongside the emerging Hereford City Masterplan, in which active travel is a key priority. The plan features a network of Primary and secondary cycle routes. Significant improvements to the existing route along the A465 are in development and has funding secured from council’s successful ‘Levelling Up’ funding bid. The secondary network that will be developed includes a route along Broadlands lane, Eastnor Drive and Whittern Way meaning the site will be directly accessed by the city’s cycle network. The emerging masterplan also proposes a network of neighbourhoods with measures to reduce speeds and traffic in local neighbourhoods which will enable more walking and cycling for school journeys and requests for reduced speed limits on Whittern way are already being considered by the council.

The construction industry still continues to feel the impact of the pandemic, with labour shortages, high demand for raw materials, soaring energy prices and the geopolitical situation in Ukraine and its consequent impact on oil and gas supplies are all serious causes for concern. A statement on product availability from the Construction Leadership Council (21 April 2022) noted that increased energy and raw materials costs currently remain key factors driving rising prices for construction in the UK.

In addition to the increasing prices for construction, inflation is the highest it has been for over 40 years, peaking at over 11% in October 2022. Given this volatility in the market, and in a bid to continue to deliver value for money effectively, a suitable contingency is vital in order to ride the waves of uncertainty and avoid further cost inflation by decision delay.

Community impact

These activities support the council’s County Plan Ambition to strengthen communities to ensure that everyone lives well and safely together and the Children & Young People’s Plan Pledge of helping all children and young people succeed – be amazing.

The County Plan outlines the council’s priorities. The expansion of Aylestone School supports three of these: Ensure all children are healthy, safe and inspired to achieve, Protect and improve the lives of vulnerable people, and Invest in education and the skills needed by employers.

The project fulfils the delivery of school places which is included in Herefordshire council’s delivery plan which highlights the key activity planned for 2022-23.

More Details –