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Councils need powers back as baby boom threatens school places – LGA

Councils will not be able to fulfil their legal duty to offer every child a secondary school place unless the government gives them more power over school planning, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The Department for Education predicts the secondary school population will hit 3.3 million by 2024 due to an increase in the birth rate, a rise of 20% from the present amount of 2.7 million.

The LGA has called for the government to reverse its policy of taking power over schools away from local authorities, and to give them more power to compel the increasingly popular academy schools to offer more places and to open new maintained schools in areas of need.

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.

“Councils have already created an extra 300,000 primary places, but those children will soon need to move up to secondary schools. 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.”

The LGA also said they were concerned that free schools will struggle to find sponsors within their area, and called for funding allocations to be provided in five-year blocks to allow councils to work with local schools to financially plan long-term.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We would encourage councils to work with regional schools commissioners, using their combined local knowledge, to identify top sponsors for new schools in their area, and we are confident there are enough quality sponsors to meet demand.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it is “ridiculous” to exclude the one body that has local knowledge, effective strategic oversight and democratic accountability.

“It is only government that appears to be oblivious to the dreadful situation that is emerging as a consequence of their education policies. The effects are now being felt across England,” she said.

“It is quite clear that local authorities need to be given the ability and adequate funding to open new schools. Failure to do this will result in yet more chaos, children being taught in portakabins, larger class sizes and many having to take places in schools away from their neighbourhood.”

Leora Cruddas, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, added that meeting the need for so many new school places is challenging and complex.

“In some areas, for instance, there is a sheer lack of space on which to build. Additional places cannot be created overnight,” she explained. “We need a creative and co-ordinated approach and school leaders should be involved in decisions. They have the expertise and insight to know what will work and what won’t.

“Providing more school places is not just about quantity it is also about quality. This means having sufficient resources. Unfortunately, schools are facing a double-whammy of real-terms funding cuts and a teacher recruitment crisis.”

Independent schools adviser Stephen Rayner warned in a recent edition of PSE that his current research into academisation suggests it “may not be as straightforward” as hoped.

Last year, the LGA warned that schools could be pushed to “breaking point” by the cost of providing extra places.


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