Primary schools at 'tipping point' through lack of space

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Primary schools are being pushed to breaking point with the cost of providing extra places, council leaders have warned.

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Schools face a crisis over lack of space for new pupils

New analysis by the Local Government Association estimates that it will cost £12 billion to create sufficient places for the 900,000 extra pupils expected to start school in the next decade.

The LGA says that it fears ‘a tipping point’ when councils and schools will be unable to afford to create places, or find more space to extend schools.

It says that the Government’s commitment of £7.35 bn will leave a shortfall, and that councils are also carrying a billion pounds worth of costs, which puts pressure on other school services.

As well as shortages in funding from central Government, councils also find it difficult to create places on time and in the right areas because of too much bureaucracy, the association claims.

It says that the decision to create new places lies too much in the hands of the Government.

The call comes ahead of Thursday’s deadline for parents of three- and four-year-olds to apply for a primary school to start school in September 2015.

Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said, ‘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.

‘We do not want any child to be without a place. That is why, at a time when parents are making big decisions about their child's future, we are calling on the Government to commit to funding the creation of school places and hand councils the powers to open new schools, for both primary and secondary-age pupils, before time runs out.’

‘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.’

Separately, a report compiled from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities by the Labour Party found that one in five primary schools does not have sufficient space for all its pupils.

According to the findings, more than three-quarters of councils are in need of extra primary school places over the next three years.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt argues that free schools are being set up in areas that do not need extra school places. Responses to previous FOI requests from Labour last year found that 83 per cent of free schools opened during 2014 had unfilled places.

Schools have turned to innovative solutions to cope with demands on space.

They include a primary school in Northumberland that has bought and converted a double decker bus into classroom, after running out of space in the school building, with toilets and cupboards converted into teaching spaces.

Another primary school in Barking and Dagenham has converted its playing field, library and old music block into classrooms and set up eight mobile classrooms in the playground.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said, ‘Parents have a big choice to make at the election in May. On education the choice is this: a Labour Party committed to sensible and pragmatic solutions for overcome the growing pressures on school places, or David Cameron's irresponsible schools policy that prioritises money for new schools in areas with surplus places.’ 

A Government spokesperson said, ‘This is unfortunate scaremongering and we would like to reassure parents that we have been on top of this issue since day one. One of the first decisions we took when we came to office in 2010 was to double the amount of money allocated to creating new school places after a series of cuts under the previous Government.’

The Government had invested an extra £5 billion to create new school places already with more to come, funding more than 250 new schools and spending £18 billion to improve school buildings across the country, he added.

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