England faces a looming crisis over primary school numbers as official figures point to a shortfall of 10,000 places across the country within four years.
As millions of parents prepare to receive letters on Monday telling them whether or not their children will be admitted to their first-choice primary school, the government’s own data shows councils across the south-east, the Midlands and the north of England will have more pupils than places by 2019-20.
Last year up to one in five youngsters in some parts of the country missed out on their parents’ top choice of school, although efforts by local authorities to provide more places averted a serious overall shortage, as funds were diverted from repair programmes to create extra classroom space.
Now, however, as official projections show demand rising over the next four years, local authorities are warning that funding pressures, coupled with policies that will prevent them building new schools or forcing existing ones to expand, will take the crisis to new levels.
With concerns mounting among Tory MPs over the direction of education policy, the Conservative-led Local Government Association is expected to directly challenge ministers to explain how local authorities can be expected to meet the increased demand when government plans to force all schools to become academies will strip them of any power to build new schools or force existing ones to expand.
The latest data reveals that the councils facing shortfalls in places by 2019-20 are Bolton, Manchester, Oldham, Leeds, Leicester, Birmingham, Walsall, Bexley, Greenwich, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton and Slough. - The Guardian
The shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell said: “This Government’s broken school places system means that children are being crammed into ever larger class sizes and many schools are already at or over capacity. On the day that parents will find out if their child has a place at their school of choice, it is increasingly clear that the Government has no answer to the crisis in school places they have created.”
“Ministers have already tied the hands of local areas to adequately plan for school places,” she added. "The Tories’ new forced academisation policy will make the school places system implode, as councils lose completely the levers they have to ensure there are enough school places for children.”
The same figures suggest that 87 primary schools in England now have more than 800 pupils – up from just 16 five years ago – and the number of infants in class sizes of over 30 pupils is also at its highest rate for 15 years. - Independent
It came as official figures suggested that there will be a shortfall of 10,000 primary school places within four years.
However the Deparment for Education said that the shortfall will be made up by the rapid expansion of the free schools programme.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “These claims are misleading and disingenuous. Despite rising pupil numbers, at primary, the number of pupils in excess of their school’s capacity has fallen by a quarter since 2010, and average class sizes have seen little change.
“We have spent £5 billion creating places between 2011 and 2015, with over 100,000 primary places added in 2014/15 alone, and 95.9% of parents in England received an offer at one of their top three preferred primary schools last year.
"Of course there is more to do - that’s why this government has already committed to invest a further £7 billion to support councils in delivering school places, which along with our investment in 500 new free schools we expect to deliver 600,000 new places by 2021.” - Telegraph