Determining primary school capacity: guidance for local authorities

Guidance on the determination of the capacity of primary schools, with the aim of providing a consistent approach to calculating the capacity.

Part 1: Introduction

1. Background

1.1 Present Situation

The provision and delivery of education at a local level in Scotland is the statutory responsibility of Local Authorities under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. This includes effective management of their school estate which involves determining the maximum number of pupils who may be suitably accommodated in every room in a school (under the Schools General (Scotland) Regulations 1975), and the administration of the placing request system in their area. As a result, Local Authorities have determined their own school capacity modelling policies over time. This has resulted in variations across the country in how school capacity is calculated.

The latest Scottish Government guidance regarding school capacity was issued in December 2004: "Guidance on Determining School Capacities - Circular No 3/2004", a link to which can be found in Appendix 1.

There has been a significant level of innovative design in new school buildings in Scotland. Within the context of Curriculum for Excellence, space is being designed and used more creatively and increasing flexibility in learning and teaching is being realised. This is complemented by a significant increase in wireless/mobile technology. Such changes in the school estate need to be taken into account when determining the utilisation of school buildings, whilst recognising that Local Authorities must also manage their existing school estate.

1.2 The Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education

The Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education was established in August 2011 by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ( CoSLA) to examine both how the delivery of rural education could maximise the attainment, achievement and life chances of young people in rural areas, and the link between rural education and rural communities. The Commission was also asked to review the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 (the 2010 Act) and its application and make recommendations on the delivery of all aspects of education in rural areas.

The Commission's Report, published in April 2013, set out 38 recommendations to the Scottish Government and Local Authorities, including one on school capacity. The Commission found that inconsistency in the use of capacity figures in school closure proposals was resulting in the data being challenged and distrust between communities and Local Authorities. Recommendation 23 proposed:

"A consistent approach to school capacity modelling should be agreed between the Scottish Government and Local Authorities".

In response, the Scottish Government agreed to review the guidance on determining school capacities and to work closely with CoSLA, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland ( ADES), individual Local Authorities and others to develop a consistent approach which can be applied to school capacity modelling in Scotland in future. This process has led to the production of this guidance.

1.3 Benefits of a Consistent Approach

Through the Commission's work and discussions with Local Authorities it became clear that a more consistent approach to school capacity modelling could lead to the following:

  • A clear, transparent basis for school capacity calculations used in school closure consultations, which would improve confidence in the data used and reduce argument on the subject.
  • Fairer and quicker negotiations across the country in obtaining developer contributions for school extensions or new schools as a result of local housing developments. A consistent approach would help developers understand the implications of their development proposals.
  • More reliable and useful national data (provided to Scottish Government through the annual Core Facts Statistical return) for analysing Scotland's School Estate at both a local and national level, allowing benchmarking to take place with other Local Authorities.
  • A recommended approach to school capacity modelling, which is adopted by all Local Authorities, should provide stronger evidence for capacity calculations and therefore a stronger basis for placing request decisions.


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