Aspirations Academies Trust is planning to reduce pupil numbers in two of its secondary schools, despite concerns from local about a lack of school places.
The trust runs three secondary schools – Banbury Academy in Oxfordshire, Rivers Academy in west London, and Magna Academy in Poole – and has applied for its planned admissions numbers (PAN) at Banbury and Rivers to be decreased from September 2016.
At Rivers in west London, the trust wants to reduce the 215 pupils admitted per year to 180, making a total capacity of 1,100. The trust claims that this is an “educationally and economically efficient school size”.
In Oxfordshire, the county council is concerned that Banbury Academy’s funding agreement is for 1,953 pupils but the school said it only admits 180 pupils per year, puttig it at a maximum capacity of 1,260 pupils.
The council is also concerned about the introduction of banding tests – to be taken by pupils before entry – which may mean some pupils are rejected on the basis of literacy scores.
Both Rivers and Banbury have studio schools attached to their sites, each with 300 pupils, and the trust says this has reduced capacity in the main school.
AAT chief executive Stephen Kenning said both schools were unable to cope with high numbers of pupils.
Former schools adjudicator Alan Parker said: “This is a very good illustration of what is wrong with the system at the moment. If academies want to be difficult about things, they can play the system.
“With the banding issue, there isn’t enough information about how it is going to be operated. They have said it will be across three [ability] bands, but have not said if that will be equally distributed.
“I think probably the most damaging factor is the deliberate restriction of the size of the school when there is a shortage of places in the area.”
The trust said that a decision about the reduction in admission numbers now rested with the regional schools’ commissioner’s office and was not expected until after the election.
The Department for Education said this was a decision for the school.
Mr Kenning said the banding would only apply when the school was oversubscribed. “We are trying to make sure national averages are represented. It gives a real comprehensive mix. Rivers is outstanding for the first time and we expect admissions to get to a very high level.”
Mr Kenning also defended the decision to reduce pupil numbers at both schools.
“Rivers hasn’t been oversubscribed but if it does it will be hard to manage. At the moment, 180 in a PAN is a good number. Any more than that and it is going to be a bit tight in Hounslow.
“When we took Banbury on three years ago its PAN was 1,900. But we have only had 1,100 since then. It is physically impossible to get more than that in the buildings.
“Education has changed since the PAN was agreed, and when we took over the school we were not aware of the massive growth issues.”
He said that the trust had offered Oxfordshire County Council the option of building another school on its Banbury site.