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LGA - Schools facing places 'tipping point'

Two in five council areas could still have more primary pupils ready to start school than places for them by September 2016, council leaders are warning as new figures were published recently.

Local Government Association (LGA) data analysis shows two in five parts of England will have more primary-age pupils than places for them in 2016/17. This increases to more than half in 2017/18 and three in five in 2018/19.

More than 300,000 primary school places have been created by councils since May 2010 with many going to extraordinary lengths to ensure there is a place for every child, including increasing class sizes, diverting money from vital school repair programmes and converting non-classroom space, such as music rooms. But local authority leaders fear councils and schools are reaching their limits and could soon run out of space and money for extra places.

On the cusp of a general election, the LGA is calling on the next government to give councils sufficient long-term funding and powers to open new schools, so places can be created on time and in the right areas. This would ensure every child could get a place at a good local school.

Last year, the LGA revealed councils had to divert at least £1 billion of their own money on creating school places. It estimates the total cost of creating places for the 880,000 pupils expected at England's schools over the next decade could be £12 billion.

Despite having an obligation to provide school places, councils are not allowed to open new schools and the only new schools can be academies or free schools. However, councils have been footing the bill for the creation of school places in areas of need where they have not been fully-funded by government.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, says creating 300,000 primary places is a demonstrable record that councils can rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place, and so powers to create new schools should be returned to local authorities.

Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Mums and dads rightly expect their child to be able to get a school place where they live, but our fear is that we will reach a tipping point when councils or schools cannot afford the massive cost of creating places or find the space necessary for new classes.

"As we approach a new parliament, the next government must commit to fully-fund the creation of all new school places and give councils the powers to open new schools once again, before time runs out and we are faced with a national crisis. Councils face an uphill battle creating places where they are needed when their hands are tied by red tape and they are short of money to do so.

"This tipping point is the biggest challenge the next education secretary will face and councils need a firm commitment that politicians will do everything necessary to ensure no child goes without a place.

"Councils and schools have been doing everything they can to provide school places, in some cases going to extraordinary lengths by expanding schools where possible through additional classes or new buildings. However, if councils are not given powers to open new schools we could see extreme measures taken, such as converting music rooms into classrooms and putting portable buildings on their playgrounds, which will compromise the quality of education children receive.

"Under our plans, every child would get a place at a good local school. We need the next government to address this looming crisis properly."

To properly address the crisis, the LGA is calling for:

  • Money for school places to be allocated in five-year blocks, rather than annually, so councils can plan long-term;
  • Powers to open new schools to be returned to councils;
  • Councils to be able to compel academies to expand to admit extra pupils if there is demand.

Notes to Editors

1. Local Government Association (LGA) data analysis shows 66 of the 152 council areas with responsibility for schools will have more primary-age pupils than places for them in 2016/17, rising to 85 areas in 2017/18 and 94 areas in 2018/19. The full data set is available on request.

2. In January, the LGA warned the £12 billion cost of creating places for the 900,000 extra pupils expected at England's schools over the next decade could push schools to breaking point.

3. An LGA survey in August 2014 found councils had spent more than £1 billion plugging a national black hole in school places funding.

4. LGA data analysis last March showed that unless more places in secondary schools are created, an increasing number of authorities will be facing a shortfall in secondary places.

5. In March 2014 the LGA published The council role in school place planning, which explores the work councils are doing to provide school places.

Local Government Association press office - 020 7664 3333

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