WARNINGS of class downsizing and even school closures have been made after research by the Oxford Mail found nearly 2,000 primary school places vacant across Oxfordshire.

On April 16, parents and carers found out what school their child would attend, with 93 per cent offered their first choice in the county.

However, following an FOI submitted to Oxfordshire County Council by this paper, it can be revealed that 1,910 reception places are still empty.

The data reveals that dozens of schools still have spaces for entire classrooms, with some having more than 40 places.

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The county council – the local authority responsible for overseeing the majority of Oxfordshire primary schools – said the number of vacancies was down to the falling birth rate in the area.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Overall, the number of births has been falling in Oxfordshire in recent years, which is now reducing demand for school places, but this has not affected all areas equally – where there is significant housing development pupil numbers are still rising.

“The actual number of applications, so far, is lower than previously forecast, but late applications are still being received, and the second round of offers will be issued on June 10.

“It may be that the disruptions caused by Covid-19 resulted in more late applications than usual.

“The council is working with schools to ensure they remain sustainable even where the local pupil population is falling.

“New pupil forecasts will be published later this year based on the latest available population and housing data.”

Picture: Danny Lawson/ PA Wire

Picture: Danny Lawson/ PA Wire

The volume of places still available will see questions asked about classroom downsizing and possible school closures.

The spokesperson said the council is in contact with any schools which could have a ‘sustainability issue’.

Low numbers saw Culham Parochial CE Primary School near Abingdon merge with Clifton Hampden CE Primary School last year.

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Richard Tilley, founder of Oxfordshire-based education marketing specialists Comms for Schools, pointed to events in Brighton where eight primaries and one secondary school will have fewer classes from September due to the number of spare places.

He said: “The problem of low numbers at primary schools in and around Oxford has been coming for years.

“Nobody should be surprised that the city’s reception classes are 70 per cent full this September.

“Nor should primary school leaders around the rest of the county have been shocked to see another year-on-year drop in the number of applications received.

Richard Tilley

Richard Tilley

“Birth rates are not the only driver of the number of children seeking school places in a particular area, but they are the most important driver.

“The problem for some Oxfordshire schools, and Oxford schools in particular, is that the birth rate has fallen by far more than the national average.

“The rate has actually been falling for longer in Oxford and has dropped 26.5 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

“The consequence of this is that almost 19 standard primary school classes that were full in 2014 (when today’s Year 6 pupils entered education) will be empty in September 2023 (when children born in 2019 will be looking for a primary school).

“It is an extraordinary situation. How long is it before we see classes shut? Schools even?”

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According to the council figures, there were 6,904 applicants for 8,814 reception spaces in Oxfordshire – leaving 1,910 vacant places.

Rose Hill Primary School in Oxford has 35 places.

Rose Hill Primary School headteacher Rose Vermes. Picture: Ed Nix

Rose Hill Primary School headteacher Rose Vermes. Picture: Ed Nix

Sue Vermes, the school’s headteacher, said: “We have actually had a fairly steady number of applications over the last few years and we tend to have children coming into reception year after the official offer date – so the figure at the moment is unlikely to be the number of children who actually start with us in September.

“Like many schools we regularly consider our admissions number, and we want to be very inclusive and have sufficient places for all the children living and moving into the area.”