School places crisis warning

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The demand for school places could soon reach a crisis point, with no more space or money to extend schools for 880,000 extra pupils by 2023.

Official government figures show that there will be a total of 8,122,000 pupils in England’s schools, up from 7,143,000 this academic year, the BBC reports.

Coping with this population bulge, which is most acute in major cities, will cost £12 billion. The Local Government Association (LGA) wants the government to foot the bill – the current commitment from the government of £7.35 billion for extra places leaves a shortfall. As well as more funding the LGA wants councils to be given the power to open new schools to meet local needs.

Figures from the Labour party claim that almost one in five primary schools is already over capacity, with more than three-quarters seeing a need for extra primary places.
David Simmonds from the LGA stated that councils are trying to create school places, but are hampered by red tape and not enough money. “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,” he said. “As a consequence, councils are carrying a billion pounds worth of costs which puts pressure on other school services.”

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said that academies and free schools will provide the extra places: “By the time we get all the free schools in the pipeline up and running, they will be providing over 200,000 new places across the country. Seventy per cent of free schools that have been opened have been opened in areas of basic need.”

Labour’s view is that government policy means local authorities are unable to build schools in areas where they are needed while allowing free schools to open in areas where there are already surplus places. Tristram Hunt, shadow Education Secretary, said parents had a “big choice” to make at the May election. “On education the choice is this: a Labour Party committed to sensible and pragmatic solutions for overcoming the growing pressures on school places, or David Cameron’s irresponsible schools policy that prioritises money for new schools in areas with surplus places.”

Do you think the LGA is right to warn about schools facing breaking point over the need for extra places and if so what is the solution?

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