Harrogate Grammar School applies for funding to help meet student demand

Harrogate Grammar School. (091006GS5)
Harrogate Grammar School. (091006GS5)

Harrogate Grammar School could be expanding to accommodate the rising number of applicants, it has been revealed.

The waiting list for the school is at a five year high for the 2014/15 academic year, with 89 children as yet unable to get a place at the school, the Harrogate Advertiser has learned from a freedom of information request (FOI).

Harrogate Grammar School headteacher Richard Sheriff.

Harrogate Grammar School headteacher Richard Sheriff.

These prospective students are within the catchment area, and there are an additional 32 children outside this who have applied and have not been offered a place.

The number of applications has consistently exceeded what can be accommodated by the school, which takes 256 children every year.

However, since 2010/11, there have been a total of 384 children denied a place at the school, 276 of whom were within the catchment area.

Headteacher Richard Sheriff said that, to go at least some way to addressing this issue, the school has applied for capital improvement funding from the Department for Education, and could expand as early as next September.

“It is a very positive thing in the fact that we know there is security for the school and so many people want us and we are always full every year.

“The children that come to school want to come, and as a headteacher I am extremely pleased with that.

“On the other side of that it is never a happy situation to see parents and children who desperately want a place at the school.

“We do look regularly at the capacity of the school and actually increasing it to go a little way to meeting that demand. At the moment our site is the limiting factor.”

The waiting lists for schools closes on December 31, and any children who have not got a place at their first choice will be offered another option.

Parents in North Yorkshire can apply to five schools, and a North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) spokesman said all children are offered a place.

Yet Harrogate Grammar School is the only secondary school in Harrogate with a waiting list of more than five children, and has consistently higher numbers of applicants than the other two schools in the district with a waiting list - Knaresborough King James’s School and Ripon Grammar School, neither of which have children within the catchment area waiting for next year.

There were about 367 applications for the grammar school as a first choice this year, according to Mr Sheriff, and any funding could be used to provide for these extra students.

He said: “Expansion could happen as soon as next September, depending on how the funding looked, but it is probably about a one in five chance nationally to get that funding.

“The government has given an edict that it wants good and outstanding schools to expand, but the money for doing that is in short supply.

“I met last week with the NYCC representative within the planning team, and we want to work in collaboration with other schools to make sure there is a sensible provision where the needs to be within the town.”

As Harrogate Grammar is an academy it doesn’t get capital funding from NYCC, but has to apply to other sources.

However, NYCC administers the admissions for the school, and representatives attend the open evenings in October to answer questions to parents.

Executive member for schools Coun Arthur Barker (Con) said: “It is a good school and it is very popular, but the admissions criteria are met and I know that some people don’t get their first choice of school.

“It is inevitable when a school is very popular that some people will be disappointed.

“It is not unexpected for a popular school to have a waiting list. We have got other good schools in Harrogate, but perhaps not quite as popular.”

It does, however, seem to be a problem for the grammar school and one they are keen to address.

“Children in Harrogate have a tremendous choice of schools and they are really lucky, so they are not lost for a great school to go to if they can’t get into the grammar school, but there are 1,080 students in the school, and that is a lot.

“You feel very humble that so many people want to be part of what you are doing, but you also feel very sad that these fantastic kids can’t get a place. We are really aware of it, particularly on the open nights, but throughout the year.

“The other thing happening in Harrogate is the planned building and new homes and I know the local authority is looking at these sensibly to see how school places can be found to make sure Harrogate remains with high quality education within the town.

“We would never accommodate all the applicants and we wouldn’t want to. The site just could not manage such high numbers, and it is going to be a challenge in years to come.”