LGA in warning over school places


Published: Tuesday 13th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Schools could be pushed to breaking over the next decade by the need to provide almost a million more places for pupils, town hall chiefs have warned.

The continuing squeeze on places could lead to a “tipping point” where there is no money or space left to expand schools any further, according to the Local Government Association.

Official figures predict that there may be around 900,000 extra pupils in England’s schools over the next decade.

The Association said its own analysis had concluded that it will cost £12 billion to create enough school places for all of these children.

It urged the Government to ensure that all school places are fully funded and to enable councils to open new schools according to the needs of the local community.

The call comes just days before the January 15 deadline for mums and dads to apply for primary school places for this September.

Applications are expected to be made for around 370,000 three and four-year-olds who are due to start school in the autumn.

There have been ongoing concerns about pressure on school places, particularly for primary-age children, fuelled in part in recent years by a rising birth rate.

The Government has pledged £7.35 billion so far to create more places, but the LGA argued that this still leaves a major shortfall.

Around 90,000 places were created in 2012/13 by councils, and more are being established – but the scale of the problem is too big to be solved at a local level, the Association insisted.

David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Mums and dads rightly expect their children to be able to get a school place and councils and schools are doing everything they can to provide this, in some cases going to extraordinary lengths to create places.

“But we fear a tipping point could soon emerge when councils and schools can no longer afford the massive costs for the creation of places, nor find the space necessary for new classes, if this crisis is not properly dealt with.”

He added: “We do not want any child to be without a place. That is why, at a time when parents are making big decisions about their child’s future, we are calling on the Government to commit to funding the creation of school places and hand councils the powers to open new schools, for both primary and secondary-age pupils, before time runs out.

“Additionally, councils face a challenge creating places on time and in the right places when their hands are tied by red tape.”

In 2013, a study by the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that by September 2014 an estimated extra 256,000 primary and secondary school places would be needed to meet demand. Of these, 240,000 were required in primary schools, with more than a third (37%) needed in London alone.

Separate research conducted by the Times Educational Supplement last year concluded that hundreds of thousands of pupils could end up with less room to play outside because a squeeze on school places has meant classrooms are being built on playgrounds and playing fields.

Information on school expansions from 82 local authorities suggests that just over a third (35%) of primary schools that have grown or are due to grow in size will end up with less outdoor space for youngsters.

A further 54% are not due to lose space, but will have more pupils using the same area, the research found.

Conservative Minister Nick Gibb said: “The last Labour government failed to plan for the future, cutting funding for school places during a baby boom while allowing immigration to get out of control, and they wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on their failed Building Schools for the Future programme.

“By contrast, because of the tough decisions we have taken as part of our long-term economic plan to get the economy back on track, this Government has dealt with an unprecedented increase in demand for school places by protecting the school budget from cuts, investing an extra £5 billion to create new school places and spending £18 billion to improve school buildings across the country. As a result we now have a million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.”

Published: Tuesday 13th January 2015 by The News Editor

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