A massive £256million investment over the next three years for Hampshire's children and young people, including one of the biggest ever programmes for creating new school places has been approved by Hampshire County Council within its budget for 2013/14.
Now that Government has announced details of local authority grants for education capital spending for the next two years, the Council can plan with more certainty and Councillor Roy Perry, Executive Lead Member for Children's Services, is being asked to approve the detail of this substantial investment plan on 25 March.
It includes a commitment to spend £165million creating around 8,000 new, high quality school places that will meet the heavy demand from rising birth rates, new housing developments and more families moving into the county. It's also expected to give a big boost to Hampshire's economy by creating new jobs in the building industry and safeguarding others.
Other significant plans include the investment of £3m in Gosport Skills Centre, a centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Advanced Skills Training on the Daedulus Enterprise Zone site. The technical training centre will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics technologies and wider engineering disciplines and will be led by Fareham College supported by St Vincent College and private sector employers. It is anticipated it will create sustainable employment opportunities by attracting investment and employers to the area while providing vital vocational skills to the district's young people.
The investment programme will also include improvements to the highly valued outdoor study centre at Stubbington, enhancements to education centres around the county to support vulnerable children and young people as well as the strategic review of children's residential homes which will see the relocation and replacement of homes to ensure they better meet the needs of the most vulnerable children that they support.
Commenting Councillor Perry said: "This planned programme represents a very significant investment into children's services, especially education, across Hampshire. Thousands of additional school places will be created, enhancements will be made to schools and education centre facilities as well as accommodation for children in care who are among the county's most vulnerable.
"A particularly innovative development is the Gosport Skills Centre, which will ensure young people have the right skills to meet the needs of the Hampshire employment market. This will not only improve opportunities for young people but will also help to ensure sustainable development of the local economy."
The 8,000 new school places will help meet forecast demand that is based on calculations not just about rising birth rates but housing growth and parental preferences that add further pressures. Population movement is hard to predict and some parts of Hampshire are becoming increasingly attractive for young families to move to after their children are born. There is a developing trend with parents attracted by the general quality of life in the county but also by the high quality schools, with more than 75% of children attending a primary school ranked good or outstanding by Ofsted.
Earlier this month Hampshire County Council was able to offer a record high 99.5% of parents a place for their child at a secondary school of their choice this September - with 96.2% getting their first preferred school, around 10% higher than the national averages released by the Department for Education last year.
The admissions team is now handling primary school applications with offers due to go out on 16 April. In total the department will have dealt with 33,000 applications this year for children who are either starting primary or secondary school or transferring from infant to junior school.
Councillor Perry added, "The pressure on school places is a national challenge and the popularity of Hampshire schools adds to that challenge. We have dealt with these pressures to date as the figures bear out. This significant investment plan means that we will continue to be able to offer parents high quality schooling in high quality accommodation."