Who looks after capacity planning in your School or Trust?

Posted: March 17, 2021

With billions invested in providing extra pupil places over the past ten years, pupil capacity planning has very much been in focus nationally. 

However, at an individual school level the science of pupil capacity planning is poorly applied, resulting in a wide range of problems from over-crowding, poor space utilisation, escalating maintenance costs and unnecessary capital expenditure.

Speaking at Managing the School Estate Summit 2021 Jeremy Pilgrim of School Property Matters has 25 years’ experience, carrying out and analysing over 4000 surveys for 2500 schools as well as advising schools about the condition, capacity and utilisation of their buildings and facilities. 

With this background Jeremy believes that capacity planning is a crucial piece in the Estates Management jigsaw, even though current guidance on this area is limited in the DfE’s Good Estates Management Guide for Schools.

Jeremy asserts: “It is impossible to take a strategic approach to Estates Management without a clear picture and understanding of your school buildings’ capacity.”

While it is typically the headteacher who gets the call from the Local Authority about accommodating more pupils, they frequently do not have the right data or expertise to hand to provide a considered response about how their buildings need to expand.

“At the moment capacity planning falls between two stools but we want to encourage Senior Leadership Teams to think about their buildings and their school separately,” Jeremy explains. 

“The physical facilities are clearly the responsibility of the Estates team. Whereas the operational unit comprising teachers and pupils remains the headteacher’s domain to look after.”

Reflecting on some capacity planning disasters he has witnessed over his career Jeremy says: “I’ve seen schools raise hundreds of thousands of pounds of parents’ money for something they didn’t need, with personalities driving a capital programme.

“I’ve also seen a science specialist school resort to teaching A level science students in the school hall because they didn’t have enough labs – despite having three art rooms each the same size as a science lab.

“I know of one extremely cramped and overcrowded school that took many more pupils than their buildings could accommodate and disadvantaged itself in bids for expansion funding by achieving outstanding grades.

“And I’ve seen Local Authorities tempt headteachers with meagre expansion budgets when actually the work required was triple the cost.”

All of these problems, Jeremy believes, can be completely avoided by establishing a clear, factual baseline of capacity requirements, and making your Estates function the natural custodian of that information. 

“Headteachers don’t necessarily wish to appear hard-headed so it would suit them to delegate capacity planning to Estates,” Jeremy comments. 

“Armed with the data it is then the Estates function that can negotiate with the funding bodies and become a very useful ally for the Governors and Senior Leadership team.”

For further insight into the strategic importance of including capacity planning in the Estates function of your school or trust listen to Jeremy’s presentation at Managing the School Estate Summit 2021.

To arrange for a Pupil Capacity Report to be carried out at your site, contact info@schoolpropertymatters.co.uk



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