20 March 2014

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that there will be a shortage of secondary school places in a third of local authorities in England within five years unless urgent action is taken to create 80,716 new places.

The LGA’s report, “The council role in school place planning: making sure there are enough school places locally”, analysed data from the Department for Education’s (DfE) “School Capacity Survey and School Census” of numbers of school places and forecasts of pupil numbers until 2019/20.

However, the DfE claims local authorities must now “efficiently and effectively” spend the billions of funding they have been given for new places. This is on top of funding for free schools, 70% of which are being established in areas of need according to the DfE.

Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: “The Government’s free school and academies programme is causing untold damage to school place planning” because “scarce resources are being wasted on setting up free schools without taking into account local need or demand”.

She added that local councils have a “unique responsibility” for providing places but “insufficient powers to plan, commission or build schools”.

Dr Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) explained that, because the Government only encourages new academies and free schools which are not part of the local authorities’ planning strategy, councils cannot “plan systematically” for a school place for every child.

Therefore, the LGA would like to see a single capital pot locally, an indicative five-year allocation of schools capital to councils to allow them to plan, decision-making on the provision of new schools restored to local level, powers to create new schools given back to councils, and councils given a greater role in judging and approving free school proposals.