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‘Extraordinary’ measures taken to tackle school place shortages

Councils trying to deal with shortages of school places are taking ‘extraordinary’ measures, including borrowing millions of poundsto make up for shortfalls in government grants, the LGA says.

New LGA analysis of Department for Education (DfE) figures suggests about 30% of local authority areas in England will need to provide a total of 80,716 new secondary places by 2019/2020.

While nationally the picture varies, some regions could face a significant squeeze and the number facing difficulties is set to increase over the next five years.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: “Since the scale of the surge in demand for school places became clear, councils have done everything in their powers to ensure no child is without an education. Councils created almost 90,000 additional primary places during the last academic year, but with about 130,000 still needed, we will not rest until there are enough places.

“However, as children move through primary school, securing new secondary places will become a significant issue. Mums and dads should know councils will do everything they can to create more school places and there are great examples of the work being done across the country.”

Across the country councils have gone to significant lengths to create places, and in December the government committed £2.35bn to provide places up to 2017, but local authorities still face problems because there is not enough money to fund them or not enough space available to build.

Some of the measures taken by councils have been explored in an LGA report, which also includes a five-point plan that it believes is necessary to ensure councils have the funding and power to create places.

For example, Reading Borough Council has borrowed £34.5m to make sure children have places in permanent school buildings, while Essex County Council had to supplement its basic needs grant – the capital provided by the DfE for new school places – from its own resources to the tune of £38.7m.

Other steps taken by different authorities include extending schools using temporary buildings, use of bulge classes (where an extra class is added to a particular year) and changing space such as music rooms and IT suites into classrooms

“The challenge for councils is making sure places are delivered on time and in the right places, in a context where some of the decision making about new school places is now in the hands of the Government,” said Cllr Simmonds.

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