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18.01.16

‘Create five-year schooling allocations or expand academies’ – LGA

Funding allocations for education should be delivered in five-year blocks to allow councils to devise long-term plans in face of increasingly at-risk school places, the LGA has said.

As well as that, the body said local authorities should be handed back the power to build school themselves if necessary, ensuring they keep with their statutory duty to give every child a school place.

It also argued that this statutory duty could be made undeliverable if academies are blocked from expanding where necessary to meet growing demand. Without academy schools agreeing to increase capacity, the ability to provide enough school places should be threatened.

Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Councils have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place available to them but find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to ensure schools, including academies, expand. Finding suitable sponsors with the capacity to take on the running of a successful new school is also proving a challenge.

“Creating an extra 300,000 primary places is a demonstrable record that councils will do everything they can to rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place, but all schools must play their part too. If they are not willing to expand, then powers to create new schools should be returned to local authorities themselves if they are unable to secure high quality free school sponsors in their communities.”

The association claimed that councils already had to divert over £1bn of local budgets to create more school places and that, over the next decade, another £1.2bn would be needed to open up the estimated 880,000 extra places needed.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell  MP, agreed that the current system for planning new school places is “essentially broken”, with Whitehall’s “obsession with free schools” making it harder to ensure there are enough places elsewhere.

Her warnings came just ahead of the deadline for parents to apply for their child’s primary school place by midnight, which she argued would drive some families “straight onto a waiting list with no offer of any school place”.

“Soaring numbers of children will continue to be crammed into ever-expanding classes, as the only option left for many schools in many areas,” she added.

The party’s own analysis highlighted that over a million children are now in “super-size classes” in primary school, with thousands accommodating over 40 kids.

But a spokesperson for the Department for Education argued that despite the rise in pupil numbers, 95% of parents had received an offer at one of their top three preferred schools last year. The average infant class size had also “remained stable”.

The department claimed that “any suggestion to the contrary is nonsense”, but acknowledged that more needed to be done to invest in new school places.

“That’s why we will now invest a further £23bn in school buildings up to 2021, creating 500 new schools in the next five years and 600,000 new school places. This comes after we changed the rules to make it easier for good schools to expand,” the spokesperson added.

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