AN oversubscribed school in Shepton Mallet will soon get a new classroom to ease the pressure on pupils and teachers.

St Paul’s Church of England (VC) Junior School, located on the A361 Paul Street, provides education for pupils aged seven to 11 (school years three to six).

The school currently has more than 300 pupils and is struggling for space, with rooms originally intended as “intervention spaces” being re-purposed as temporary classrooms.

Somerset Council has now announced that a new classroom, providing enough space for 30 pupils, will be constructed on site in the coming months to ease the pressure.

This decision comes as a decision looms on plans for 620 new homes on the southern edge in the town, which were first proposed back in 2018.

St Paul’s Junior School has an operational capacity of 297 pupils, with two very small classrooms being set aside as “intervention spaces” for pupils who require additional support.

As of October 2023 (the most recent figures available), there were 322 pupils on the school roll, with 86 pupils in year three and 91 pupils in year four.

It has had to use one of its intervention spaces as a conventional classroom – which has only been possible since it currently only has 66 pupils within year six.

A council spokesman said: “The latest school population forecasts indicate that the school will reach 348 pupils in 2024 and 361 in 2025.

“With another large year group of 87 expected to start at the school in September 2024, pupil numbers at St Paul’s continue to rise.

“There is only one junior school in Shepton Mallet and there is no alternative provision for children in years 3 to 6 within statutory walking distance.

“Doing nothing in response to the forecast growth would likely result in the council failing to meet its statutory duty of providing sufficient school places and lead to unnecessary transport costs.”

The council has not confirmed how much it will cost to deliver the new classroom, citing commercial sensitivity.

However, it has confirmed the funding for the new classroom was already allocated within Somerset County Council’s final capital programme in February 2023 – with the scheme transferring over to the new council upon its inception in April the same year.

This announcement comes mere months before the council’s planning committee east (which handles major developments in the former Mendip area) is expected to make a final ruling on outline proposals for up to 620 new homes on the A371 Cannard’s Grave Road.

C. G. Fry put forward outline plans back in July 2018 for the development, which is also expected to include a primary school, employment units and a care home.

As a result of the development including a new school – and the length of time it would take between outline approval and the first homes being occupied – the council has not included the C. G. Fry site in its current pupil calculations for St. Paul’s Junior School.

A spokesman for C. G. Fry stated in March: “Our previous discussions with Somerset County Council suggested there was an appetite to work with us to build the school early in the process, and we will shortly reignite these discussions with the local education authority.

“We would love to deliver a school as it makes a place more attractive and vibrant and also creates certainty.

“When and how it happens remains the preserve of Somerset Council.”

If approval is granted, C. G. Fry has said it would submit a reserved matters application (concerning the design and layout of the new homes) in early-2025, with a view to construction work starting as soon as possible after this date.