Net Capacity Assessment Programme: Pros, Cons and FAQs

Posted: January 3, 2024

During 2021 the DfE announced a new programme to assess the pupil capacity of secondary and special schools across the country. The plan involves sending Valuation Office Agency (VOA) surveyors to every school to measure available space and calculate pupil capacity.

The programme has been running for a couple of months so it is too early to assess outcomes from the Net Capacity Assessment (NCA) programme as no completed assessments have been issued to schools. So far the collected room data is being made available to the first schools to check. 

While it can be seen as a valuable tool for assessing big-picture school capacity, there are concerns about the lack of transparency in the methodology and the weight of evidence the assessments will carry in negotiations between schools and local authorities for pupil places. 

Will the NCA data just be another piece of information in an already complex negotiation or deemed to be the definitive number?

The Benefits of NCAP 

Undoubtedly, the NCAP will encourage more detailed and consistent data collection and recording of pupil capacity numbers across the country. There will be an increased awareness of the importance of school data collection, which is a huge benefit to schools, trusts, local authorities, and the government. 

So what’s the problem?

The NCA programme data isn’t detailed enough for schools to use in their operational planning. It only provides a general overview of the school’s capacity, and it doesn’t take into account specific factors such as; curriculum and timetabling, and the use of shared spaces. This makes it difficult for schools to use the data to make informed decisions about their capacity needs and to model required changes.

Methodology – How is the data being collected?

Although the overall goal of the project is beneficial, there is room for error in the data collection methods. The VOA was selected to conduct the assessments due to their experience in assessing buildings. However, they have no applicable experience in school pupil capacity, and their data collection process is not well-documented so far. The collected NCA data doesn’t appear to be entered into a controlled app environment, and it isn’t clear how the VOA is ensuring consistency across their team. 

Who is going to be visited?

There has been some confusion about who will be notified of the data collection process. The DfE has stated that Head Teachers and Estates Managers will be notified, but some have not received any communication from the department. This has led to some concerns that schools won’t have enough time to prepare.

The message may have been buried in the general communication and information that the government sends across the year, but the DfE insists they have made a lot of effort to contact everybody. 

If you are unsure whether your school will be visited, the DfE has created an online document that includes a tranche list of currently scheduled visits.

DfE Net Capacity Assessments for Special Schools

There has been no prescribed method for calculating the pupil capacity of special schools, making it difficult to accurately assess the number of pupils that can be accommodated. Visits are conducted when schools are closed to minimise disruption. However, this means room usage and specific requirements of special needs children are not taken into account, potentially leading to inconsistencies in the NCA’s assessment. 

In a recent example during the pilot stage, the NCA found that one school had more space than it needed. In contrast, another school was reported to have double the amount of pupils than the calculated pupil capacity. One school was concerned they were opening themselves up to health and safety issues by continuing to operate with current pupil numbers when there is now a government document that says to halve or double it. 

Both schools sought advice from the local authority. In the first example, the local authority said to trust the document and squeeze more children in, and in the ‘over-capacity’ case the school was told the outcome should be used as a broad brush guideline.  

The verdict – self-service a better solution?

The NCA has great potential to be a valuable tool for assessing school capacity. By introducing compulsory capacity assessment, the program may encourage schools to prioritise obtaining detailed data on their facilities. 

Rather than the centralised, one-size-fits-all approach, schools should commission a detailed report on their school’s capacity themselves. The key factor in a detailed Pupil Capacity Report is the modelling of potential changes room by room to understand the capacity implications. A detailed report will take into account the curriculum and timetable with detail on the exact number of each space type required. This data will be accurate, detailed and tailored to the specific needs of the school. It can be used to identify areas where capacity is limited, apply for funding grants, minimise potential risks and disruptions, and enable planning for future growth. 

What next?

School Property Matters create independent, comprehensive pupil capacity reports for thousands of schools and trusts across the country. We work with our customers to establish their requirements and create a solution completely tailored to their needs. 

Speak to Pamela to find out how SPM can advise your Net Capacity requirements.

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