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What you need to know about the Net Capacity Assessment (NCA) programme

What is the NCA Programme?

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE) will be visiting approximately 4,500 schools from 2023 to 2025 to obtain up to date information on pupil capacity. In this article we outline the purpose of the programme, why it is important and what you need to do to protect your interests. 

The DfE will use the NCA data for future pupil place planning and budget allocations so it is important that responsible bodies engage with the process and, at a minimum, check the output report against their own data to guard against future shocks to funding arrangements. 

 

Will my school be visited?

Initially, visits will be targeted to every state secondary school and special school in England. Further phases may extend this to Primary Schools and Colleges. 

 

When will my school visit take place?

Schools have been divided into six tranches from July 2023 to August 2025 

To find your school, follow the link for the full Tranche List  

 

Why is it important?

The VOA will create a schedule of accommodation and measure room sizes and circulation spaces to calculate the number of children a school should be able to accommodate based on the NCA tool and DfE design guidance. 

The DfE will use the NCA data for future pupil place planning, use of the school estates and capital funding allocations. It is therefore essential that that NCA is accurate and reflects site conditions. 

NCAs are useful for schools and trusts when making decisions on Published Admission Numbers (PAN), admissions appeals and wider estates planning and strategy. 

More detail on the programme aims and methodology is available in the Net Capacity Assessment (NCA) Programme Guide 

 

What do the experts think?

We spoke to Jeremy Pilgrim of School Property Matters, the country’s leading specialist consultancy on pupil capacity in schools. He commented; 

“We applaud the DfE for finally starting to assess this information from a central perspective and would advise schools and trusts to fully cooperate and work with the surveyors. Treat this information in the same way as you have the Condition Data Collection (CDC) information and understand this is where the DfE and potentially local authorities will look to understand your pupil numbers and you won’t go far wrong. And as with CDC, know that data procured from your own perspective is the only way to effectively manage your estate.” 

 

What you need to do now.

Raise awareness: Feedback from the initial visits is that the VOA are communicating directly with individual school Headteachers. We understand that responsible bodies are not always being informed. It is important that Headteachers are aware of this programme and why there needs to be active engagement in the process. For trusts, you may wish to communicate with Headteachers to ensure that central trust teams, including finance and estates are aware and involved with the assessment. 

Prepare documentation: Schools will be asked to provide existing floor plans to facilitate the process. In some circumstances, Fire safety plans or schematics may be used as the basis for the NCA. In exceptional cases, if a school does not have current or accurate floor plans, the VOA may commission these to be completed as part of the process. 

Review/challenge: When the VOA has completed a NCA the results will be shared with the school approximately 3 to 4 months from the site visit. You should discuss any disparities between the new NCA and your existing NCA, number on roll (NOR) and curriculum plan and begin to consider what actions or risk mitigations might be required to deal with overcrowding or low-admissions. 

Challenge/commission your own independent NCA: The school will have two weeks to review and, if necessary, query or challenge the outcome. It is critical that any inaccuracies are picked up at this stage as they could affect future admissions and capital allocations. Errors could occur, for example if inaccurate floor plans are used or schedules of accommodation do not accurately reflect building usage. You may wish to seek professional advice to review the NCA or provide evidence to challenge reports. 

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