Just seven oversubscribed Sheffield primary schools are responsible for half of refusals
We dig into the schools places data. Plus, remembering ‘Big Bill’ Werbeniuk
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
Last week, primary school places in Sheffield were announced, which is always a big moment for parents in the city. With a clear trend of falling birth rates in Sheffield, are the days of parental apprehension coming to an end? That seems unlikely, as our data reporter Daniel Timms explores below.
As well as that we have a stunning photo of the “wet trespass” at Kinder reservoir, a gorgeous flat with riverside views in Kelham Island, and the Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society bring a production of HMS Pinafore to the Montgomery Theatre.
Catch up and coming up
We hope you enjoyed our weekend read by Daniel Timms about how joblessness among older adults is becoming a serious problem for our city. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 1,330 paying members. The first was a lovely piece by our regular contributor David Bocking about the people who spend their spring evenings saving toads, frogs and newts at Redmires reservoir. And the second was a piece by me about the thorny challenges of race, power and politics facing Weston Park Museum as it approaches its 150th birthday. An extract from that first piece is below.
Tabitha suddenly speeds up and I spot the small green creature in the middle of the road ahead. She watches for a moment, scoops it up in her gloves, then deposits the potentially baffled toad on the other side of the road. Obvious question for a novice like me: how do you know which way it’s going? Well, you just watch it for a bit first, she explains. And if you’ve got it wrong, there’ll be another patroller along in a minute to set it on its intended way.
This week I will be taking a bit of time off so we’ll be running a reduced publishing schedule (hopefully for the last time). After today we’ll be back with a weekend read on Saturday about the policy issues at stake at next week’s local elections. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield based on subscriptions rather than clickbait, please subscribe using the button below. It costs £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months up front (23p a day).
Editor’s note: I know I’m biased but I think our coverage of Sheffield recently has been really excellent and varied. As well as deep reporting of Sheffield’s communities by me, we also have superb environmental journalism from David Bocking and we’ve just added another string to our bow with high-quality data reporting by Daniel Timms. It’s beginning to feel like we’re putting together a real team of people here in Sheffield. If you want to help us grow and thrive, please tell your friends and family about The Tribune or become a member today.
The big picture: The right to swim 🏊
Hundreds of swimmers gathered at Kinder reservoir yesterday to renew their call for the uncontested right to swim in open water. The so-called “wet trespass” is now in its third year and this year took place on the 91st anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass, the 1932 event widely credited with being a turning point in the right to roam movement. The amazing picture above was taken by photographer and filmmaker Sam Walker. More photos and videos of the event can be found on Instagram here and Sam’s prints can be bought from his website.
This week’s weather 🌦️
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say the week will begin with chilly winds from the north and localised frost. Milder towards the end of the week, but staying changeable.
Monday 🌦 A chilly day with bright spells, areas of cloud and one or two showers, wintry over high ground. Highs of 9°C.
Tuesday 🌥 Early frost possible, then generally dry with only isolated showers and some bright spells. 9°C the high again.
Wednesday 🌥 Rather cloudy at times with the slim risk of rain. A tad milder as winds switch to the south. Highs of 10°C.
Thursday ☂ Weather fronts will likely threaten rain from the southwest. Milder again though with highs of 12°C.
Friday 🌦 Bright spells, large cloud amounts and one or two heavy showers around. Mild with highs of 14°C.
Outlook: A lot of dry weather developing during the weekend with showers fading. Temperatures back to the late-April average.
The big story: Oversubscribed primary schools, falling birth rates
Top line: Last week, 232 students primary school students weren’t admitted to their parents’ first choice of primary school in Sheffield. But with the city’s birth rate on a downward trajectory, will too many schools rather than too many students soon become a bigger problem?
How the system works: Parents must put an application in by January. They can select up to three schools via a ranked preference system. Schools will generally accept everyone who puts them first unless it results in the school having more students than thirty to a class.
At this point various criteria kick in to determine who gets the place: children in care get priority, then those who live in the catchment and have a sibling at the school, then catchment only, then sibling only, and after that, it comes down to whoever’s house is closest to the school.
The results get announced on National Offer Day, which was last Monday.
An uneven picture: The map below shows which schools have refused students they couldn’t fit into their classrooms. Generally, the most oversubscribed are on the south and west of the city. Although there are 153 state primary schools in Sheffield, just seven accounted for over half of students refused. These are marked on the map, with Hunters Bar Junior School the most oversubscribed of the lot (NB: this data also includes those who are transferring from infant schools to junior schools).
The reasons: Relatively few children – 28 – were turned away from schools where they live in the catchment area, and three quarters of those were in just two schools: Dore and Netherthorpe primary schools. That would suggest these two schools don’t currently have either the classrooms or teaching resources to meet the demand in their catchment areas. Only 11 children with siblings in a primary school didn’t get to go there. The vast majority not being given a spot were outside the catchment with no other siblings at the school.
A longer-term trend: At the same time, birth rates in Sheffield have been coming down following a “baby bulge” (“boom” would be too strong a word) in 2012.
By 2021, there were over a thousand fewer babies born than ten years before. This might help to explain why Sheffield grew less between the 2011 and 2021 censuses compared with virtually every other comparator city, something we reported on at the time.
Looking forward: If there are fewer children in the city, then we will start to need fewer primary school places, and maybe even fewer primary schools. This trend is already being seen in Central London, where price pressures are accelerating a general ageing trend seen across the country.
Bottom line: However, this is unlikely to end oversubscription woes for parents, as the trend will not play out equally across Sheffield. Those areas and schools that are seen as the best performing will continue to attract parents, with recent research in The Tribune showing areas such as Ecclesall and Crookes continuing to see strong demand for local terraced houses.
Home of the week 🏡
This two-bedroom apartment in Kelham Island has stunning riverside views and is filled with original features including exposed brick and wood beams. It is on the market for £250,000.
Tribune Tips: If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.
Our media picks 🎧
Laud of the Manor 🌳 A nice piece in our regular contributor David Bocking’s newsletter about Green Estate, the Manor-based gardening firm that has just won a King’s Award for Enterprise. The social enterprise was set up in the late 1990s to help regenerate what was at the time one of the most deprived estates in the UK. Since then the company has gone from strength to strength and now employs 67 people and generates a turnover of over £3 million.
It’s best foot forward on vital £1m-a-year route 🥾 Another piece by David Bocking in this week’s Sheffield Telegraph about the Five Weirs Walk, a 4.7 mile walking, running and cycle route along the River Don from Meadowhall to Sheffield city centre. The popular trail brings in an estimated £1m a year to the city, but campaigners are calling for investment after one section between Attercliffe and East Coast Road fell into disrepair after the floods of 2019.
Sheffielders save a fortune at 'Repair Shop' events 🛠️ A good story in The Star about the growing popularity of repair cafe events. David Walsh speaks to the people behind Share & Repair in Hillsborough Park and the Harland Works repair cafe on John Street. One item repaired at the last Harland Works event was an ice cream maker which hadn’t worked for eight years but was fixed in 90 minutes. Our piece on the Harland Works repair cafe can be found here.
Things to do 📆
Talk 🗣️ As part of the ongoing Festival of Debate, on Tuesday (25 April) at The Leadmill, Sheffield Futures will bring together politicians, professionals and activists to explore how young people can exercise power within the current political climate. Drawing on a range of perspectives, Rage Against the Machine will consider the intricacies of our political system and what it means to be of voting age in 2023. The event is free and runs from 6pm-7.45pm.
Theatre 🎭 Starting on Wednesday, 26 April at the Montgomery Theatre, the Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society present HMS Pinafore. The society is now more than 50 years old and produced its first show in 1972. The opera is a tale of love, class, duty and closely guarded secrets and has well-known toe-tapping tunes and hilarious scenes throughout. The show also runs on Thursday and Friday evening and as a matinee on Saturday afternoon. Tickets are priced £8-£16.
Games 🎮 On Wednesday, 26 April at the Central Library, author Mark Hardisty will host a free talk about the history of video game development in Sheffield. His book A Gremlin in the Works tells the story of Gremlin Graphics, from their initial successes with Monty Mole, Jack the Nipper and Thing on A Spring, to their ground-breaking Lotus racing games and eventual $40m sale. On the night there will also be a chance to play some of their games for yourself!
Remembering ‘Big Bill’ 🎱
Watching the World Championship Snooker at the Crucible, it’s difficult to imagine there was a time when players routinely drank and smoked during games. In particular, Canadian “Big Bill” Werbeniuk’s drinking before and during matches in the 1970s and 1980s was the stuff of legend. Werbeniuk reportedly drank “at least” six pints before matches and then one pint for each frame (he would later claim them back as a tax deductible expense). In one exhibition match/drinking contest against Eddie Sinclair, after his opponent had passed out, Werbeniuk was reported to say “I'm away to the bar now for a proper drink”. Sadly (but probably not surprisingly), Big Bill’s dissolute lifestyle eventually caught up with him and he died of heart failure six days after his 56th birthday.