Crisis looming for secondary school places

Almost half of councils across the country are at risk of being unable to meet rising demand for secondary school places

Published on 4th September 2017

More than 125,000 children face missing out on a secondary school place by 2022/23, the Local Government Association has warned.

New analysis of Department for Education figures and local pupil forecasts by the LGA has found that almost half of councils across the country are at risk of being unable to meet rising demand for secondary school places within the next five years.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “As the LGA has previously warned, the school places squeeze is now about to hit secondary schools. More and more families will face growing uncertainty when trying to secure their child’s secondary school without action.

“Councils have worked hard to help create almost 600,000 additional primary places since 2010. This is no small feat. However, as those children move on to secondary schools, the majority of which are now academies, securing new secondary places in the areas where they are needed is becoming increasingly difficult,” he added.

The LGA analysis reveals that unless more secondary school places are created, 12 local authorities will face a secondary school place shortfall in 2018/19. This will rise to 23 in 2019/20, 41 in 2020/21, 57 in 2021/22 and 66 in 2022/23.

The LGA said councils urgently need to be given powers to force academies and free schools to expand if additional places are needed in a local area and voluntary agreement cannot be reached. With nearly two thirds of secondary schools now academies, “this is the only way to make sure councils can fulfil their statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place”.

Councils should also be given back powers to build new schools in areas where they are needed if it is logistically impossible for local academies or free schools to provide the places needed, said the LGA. Currently, although councils have a duty to make sure there are enough places in an area, all final decisions about new schools have to be made in Whitehall.

A surge in demand for primary school places has seen councils help deliver an additional 600,000 primary school places since 2010. This has been achieved mostly by expanding existing council maintained primary schools, where councils have the powers they need to require schools to expand.

Cllr Richard Watts said: “Councils are working with one hand behind their backs to help as many pupils as possible receive a place at their first choice school.

“If we are to avoid this looming secondary school places crisis, councils need to be able to force existing academy schools to expand if voluntary agreement is impossible and must be given back powers to open new maintained schools themselves.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: "There is a very simple solution to the school places crisis which the National Education Union is calling for. Local authorities must have their powers to open new schools restored – it beggars belief that while councils have a legal duty to ensure there are sufficient school places locally, Conservative reforms mean they no longer have the power to open new local authority maintained schools. In addition, councils must have the authority to direct academies and free schools to expand where they have capacity – a power they do have in respect of maintained schools.

“The National Education Union thinks that the free school programme is an irrational and inefficient mechanism for delivering school places. Time and again we have seen free schools opening where no additional places are needed, at vast expanse to taxpayers, while other areas that are desperate for places see no providers coming forward. Many academies and free schools have, in addition, stubbornly refused to expand– relinquishing their responsibility to local families.

“The school places crisis will not be resolved unless action is taken to correct these damaging policy failures. The market place is failing education and the Secretary of State has a responsibility to step in and take the necessary steps to ensure that all families have access to the secondary school places they desperately need within their local community,” he concluded.


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