Why doesn’t Cambridge have enough schools?

3 Jun 2024
Cheney speaking at an NEU rally

16th April, National Schools’ Offer Day, when families find out where their children will be allocated to secondary school, brought a great deal of attention in the local press this year. 

Across the county, 7720 children were offered a place at a Cambridgeshire school, with 6344 being offered their first-choice school, and 6908 (95%) their first, second or third preference.  However, despite a number of schools over-admitting in the face of a high demand for places, 45 new year 7’s in Cambridge city have so far been allocated to schools in St Neots, St Ives and Northstowe due to the lack of spaces closer to home. 

The challenges here are clear.  Adding two to three hours of travel time to the school run for even the most confident and resilient 11 year old is a lot, and limits the opportunities for them to attend after school clubs or see their new friends after school.  For families, this can also be impossible to manage around their own working hours, particularly if they have children at different schools. 

The County Council have advised that most of the children allocated to outside of Cambridge did not select a second or third preference, and therefore will be given the opportunity to do so again, meaning there is a chance they can be placed somewhere closer through this process.  However, as we know, travelling from one side of Cambridge to another by public transport is almost as challenging at rush hour as travelling to a different part of the county.  Any relief this offers this year is also not going to solve the problem going forward.  While future cohorts of year 7’s look likely to be smaller, this year group will remain in the school system for the next 5 years. 

We need to start to work towards a long-term solution.  As a candidate to be your next MP, here is what I would be asking the government to offer for Cambridge schools:

  • Proper investment in building new schools and expanding existing premises.  The new secondary school in Darwin Green for instance shows no sign of being built, or even starting to be built, any time soon.  Other schools such as North Cambridge Academy are still waiting for planning permission to expand their school buildings to accommodate more students.  Physically having enough spaces in schools is essential, both for the present but also for the future where there is no sign of the demand reducing.
  • Ensure the provision of new schools, built in time for the families who need to use them, on an evidence informed basis in new developments.  This essential infrastructure must not be left until last due to arbitrary government targets.
  • Fairer funding for Cambridgeshire schools.  According to the NEU (one of the main teaching unions), schools in Cambridgeshire are going to see a £14.7m spending cut in 2024.2025, reducing the funding per pupil by £172.  This is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for the government to review school funding to tackle this shortfall.
  • Develop plans for a “Cambridge Allowance” for teachers and other public sector workers.  We know there is a teacher recruitment crisis already after the Department for Education reported in June that teacher vacancies have doubled in the last two years, with 3000 posts now filled with temporary supply agencies rather than permanent teachers.   As an expensive city, Cambridge does not escape this.  Teachers employed in outer or central London currently receive a small additional allowance to mitigate for the costs of living in the capital city.  With house prices and the cost of living both rising, one of my first steps as your MP would be to investigate offering a “Cambridge allowance” to public sectors workers to ensure living and serving the city they live in remains viable.

The irony of a city built on education being deficient in school places is clear.  As a teacher myself, I know that schools are at the heart of their community.  Every child deserves the chance to have an excellent education: being connected to their local community, with an ability to access after school clubs and enrichment, is part of this experience.  If elected as your MP, I will work hard to make sure that Cambridge grows in a way that prizes its public services, so every child can attend a well-resourced, properly supported and happy school in their local community.


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