The Local Government Association (LGA) are fearful that a “tipping point” could soon be reached as the demand for school places increases but with no further money or space available. The extra 880,000 places expected by 2023 are calculated to cost £12 billion and the LGA wants the government to fully fund that cost.
The National Audit Office (NAO) figures show the need for school places is higher among the country’s major cities with birth rates rising faster than at any time since the 1950s; although changes to work patterns has seen some suburban areas also show an increase in demand. The NAO say more older women are having babies and there is a 6% increase in the number of child-bearing women since 2003.
Submit powers to local authority
The LGA would like to see councils given the powers to open new schools without current bureaucratic burdens and be given more central government funding. These comments came just before the deadline of 16th January 2014 for the application submissions from parents for school choices of their three to four a year olds; which covers around 370,000 applicants.
The LGA says that the councils are “pulling out all the stops to ensure there is a place for every child”. The Chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, David Simmonds, says that they are “calling on the government to commit to funding the creation of school places and hand councils the power to open new schools.” He said that councils were hindered by “red tape and lack of money” and believes the crisis is beyond the taxpayer.
The Labour Party sent Freedom of Information requests to 152 local education authorities and received 130 responses which revealed almost one in five primary schools are currently over-subscribed. The responses suggest that 18% do not have enough capacity for the pupils and have even had to make temporary/makeshift classes. One such school in South Yorkshire had to have modular classrooms built in order to cope with a surge in demand whilst another school in Northumberland held classes in a converted double-decker bus.
Over three quarters of the responding councils said that they saw a need for additional primary places within the next three years. Half of the councils also said that they would need more secondary places too.
There has been focussed funding on new schools for academics and free schools which are independent of local authorities. The Education Secretary Nicky Morgan stated in an interview on BBC4’s Radio station, that many of the necessary spaces would be “provided by academics and free schools”, stating that £5 billion so far have been spent in this government on the creation of new places.
She believes that when the free schools currently in the pipeline are up and running, there will be 200,000 new places nationwide. However, Labour claim that government policy means local authorities are unable to build schools in areas most in need, whilst allowing free schools to open in areas where there are places surplus to requirement. Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary says that parents have a “big choice” to make at the general election in May.
Conservative ministers have blamed the last Labour government for its failure in future planning and cutting funding for school places during a baby boom, whilst letting immigration become out of control. Conservative Education Minister says that “Labour wasted millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money on their failed building schools for the future programme.”
Free schools are easing burden
The director of the New Schools Network, Natalie Evans, believes that free schools do play an important part in helping to address the crisis and says that 86% of primary free schools are in areas where there is a projected need for places, rising to “100% in London where there shortage is most acute”