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LGA - Secondary school places crisis – almost half of councils areas face shortfall in five years

Almost half (49 per cent) of councils across the country are at risk of being unable to meet rising demand for secondary school places within the next five years, local government leaders warn.

New analysis of Department for Education figures and local pupil forecasts by the Local Government Association warns that more than 125,000 children face missing out on a secondary school place by 2022/23.

The LGA said councils urgently need to be given powers to force academies and free schools to expand if additional places are needed in a local area and voluntary agreement cannot be reached.

With nearly two thirds of secondary schools now academies, this is the only way to make sure councils can fulfil their statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place.

Councils also need to be given back powers to build new schools in areas where they are needed if it is logistically impossible for local academies or free schools to provide the places needed. Currently, although councils have a duty to make sure there are enough places in an area, all final decisions about new schools have to be made in Whitehall.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, has repeatedly warned of the looming crisis in secondary schools places.

A surge in demand for primary school places has seen councils help deliver an additional 600,000 primary school places since 2010. This has been achieved mostly by expanding existing council maintained primary schools, where councils have the powers they need to require schools to expand.

The LGA analysis reveals that unless more secondary school places are created, 12 local authorities will face a secondary school place shortfall in 2018/19.

This will rise to 23 in 2019/20, 41 in 2020/21, 57 in 2021/22 and 66 in 2022/23.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“As the LGA has previously warned, the school places squeeze is now about to hit secondary schools. More and more families will face growing uncertainty when trying to secure their child’s secondary school without action.

“Councils have worked hard to help create almost 600,000 additional primary places since 2010. This is no small feat. However, as those children move on to secondary schools, the majority of which are now academies, securing new secondary places in the areas where they are needed is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Councils are working with one hand behind their backs to help as many pupils as possible receive a place at their first choice school.

“If we are to avoid this looming secondary school places crisis, councils need to be able to force existing academy schools to expand if voluntary agreement is impossible and must be given back powers to open new maintained schools themselves.”

Notes to editors

The LGA’s report ‘Growing Places’ is available here. This document outlines the LGA’s key asks of government to ensure If councils are to meet the growing demand for school places government should be:

  • giving councils and maintained schools the power to set up Multi Academy Trusts and take over failing academies and free schools if they have an excellent track record in school improvement.
  • giving councils powers and duties on place-planning, schools admissions and protecting vulnerable children that apply equally to all schools, including free schools and academies.
  • changing legislation to give councils the power to direct academies to expand to meet local demand for new places and admit vulnerable and excluded pupils.
  • urgently reviewing the system for allocating schools capital to allow schools and councils to work together to join up fragmented funding streams locally in a single local capital pot to meet the demand for new places, repair and rebuild dilapidated schools and provide best value for money.
  • giving councils the lead role in commissioning new free schools to make sure they provide places where they are most needed and do not destabilise existing good and outstanding schools.

The data is taken from the Department for Education’s School Capacity Survey, covering numbers of school places and forecasts of pupil numbers until 2022/23 for each local authority.

The data set can be found here. LGA analysis of DfE figures/projections is available on request. 

All areas that have middle schools have been excluded from these calculations. This is because middle schools are either deemed to be primary schools or secondary schools, which means the number of primary or secondary places in an area can be either over- or understated.

There are 152 local authorities in England with education responsibilities, 135 have been included in the analysis for the aforementioned reason.

The National Audit Office’s data regarding the creation of school places can be found here.

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