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Schools face ‘breaking point’ over places for new pupils

The cost of creating places for the extra 880,000 school pupils expected in England by 2023 could push schools to the breaking point, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

Official government figures, published last year, project that by 2023 there will be a total of 8,022,000 pupils in England's schools – up from 7,143,000 in the current academic year.

The LGA is concerned the crunch on school places could soon reach a “tipping point”, when there is no more space or money to extend schools.

The government has already committed £7.35bn to create extra school places, but LGA figures put the cost of creating places for all the expected pupils at £12bn, leaving a massive shortfall.

In addition to calling for additional funding the LGA is also asking the government to grant council the powers to open new schools “without bureaucratic burdens so they can be delivered according to local need”.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "Mums and dads rightly expect their children to be able to get a school place and councils and schools are doing everything they can to provide this, in some cases going to extraordinary lengths to create places.

"But we fear a tipping point could soon emerge when councils and schools can no longer afford the massive costs for the creation of places, nor find the space necessary for new classes, if this crisis is not properly dealt with.

He added: "Councils face a challenge to create places on time and in the right areas, in a climate where they are also short of money to do so. The scale of this crisis is too much for council taxpayers to pay for alone. Additionally, much of the decision making about new school places rests in the hands of the Government, whose funding for school places came late. As a consequence, councils are carrying a billion pounds worth of costs which puts pressure on other school services."

Separate Labour party research found that 18% of primary schools already do not have enough capacity for their pupils, forcing children to take lessons in oversized classes or makeshift classrooms.

The party sent Freedom of Information requests to England's 152 local education authorities, of which 130 replied.

The responses showed that a primary school in Northumberland is holding classes in a converted double-decker bus, and another in Bristol that has taken over an old police station.

More than three-quarters (78%) of the councils that responded saw a need for additional primary places in the next three years, with half saying they would need more secondary places.

Conservative minister for school reform Nick Gibb MP said: "This government has dealt with an unprecedented increase in demand for school places by protecting the school budget from cuts, investing an extra £5bn to create new school places and spending £18bn to improve school buildings across the country. As a result we now have a million more pupils in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools than in 2010."

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