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Empty school places cost Flintshire County Council more than £700,000

EMPTY spaces in the county’s high schools could be costing the council more than £700,000 a year.

A report released by school inspectors Estyn revealed the estimated cost of a surplus place in a secondary school is £510 for 2011/12 – which means the 1,395 spare seats in Flintshire schools are costing the council £711,450 a year.

The document, How do surplus places affect the resources available for expenditure on improving outcomes for pupils?, also claims local authorities have been ‘reluctant’ to deal with the issue, often because of opposition from communities and political representatives.

Plans to deal with some of Flintshire’s surplus secondary school places were unveiled last June but the proposals, which included merging the Argoed High School in Mynydd Isa and the Elfed in Buckley, were thrown out by councillors later in the year after protests from members of the public.

New plans were drawn up and an initial consultation on proposals finished last month.

Those findings will be discussed shortly before a second consultation begins later in the summer.

The report, which is based on findings from visits to 11 local authorities including Flintshire, says councils were given advice on avoiding large numbers of surplus places after a report by the Audit Commission in 1996.

Chief inspector of Estyn Ann Keane said: “Local authorities are responsible for ensuring that there are enough places for all pupils in its schools and that there are no surplus places.

“This is a difficult task as, currently, we are seeing an increase in the number of primary pupils but a decrease in pupil numbers in secondary schools.

“However, despite the removal of some surplus places, local authorities have been slow to identify and complete projects which could lead to significant savings.”

The report states that closing a secondary school could save a potential £113,000, added to £510 for each surplus place removed.

The average cost of a surplus place in a primary school was estimated to be £260.