DCSF fund extra primary school places to tackle crisis
By David Williams
1 December 2009
An extra £100m has been made available to pay for an urgent expansion in primary school places across England, raising the total funding allocated to £300m.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families confirmed the additional money on November 30, as it announced which local authorities would receive the cash.
The move is in response to a sharp increase in demand for reception class places across the country, particularly in London and other urban areas such as Birmingham, Slough and Bradford.
According to the DCSF, the additional money has been made available by ‘re-prioritising’ it from existing projects. A spokesman for the department would not name which schemes were losing out, saying only that they would have involved longer-term spending.
By contrast, the £300m is to be spent immediately, enabling the boroughs involved to provide an extra 15,000 permanent places in time for the 2011/12 academic year.
The announcement of additional money comes less than three weeks after London Councils, the lobby group representing the capital’s 32 boroughs, resolved to lobby the government for more money.
However, while welcoming the new investment, the body says the £140m earmarked for London is still not sufficient. It estimates a 50,710 shortfall in primary school places over the next seven years, costing an estimated £880m.
Nick Stanton, London Councils’ executive member for children and young people, warned: ‘This crisis is by no means over – we have waited over five months for the details of this funding and in that time the situation has become far worse.’
London Councils also pointed out disparities in grants between some of the worst-hit boroughs, contrasting Richmond, which will receive only £3m, with Wandsworth, which will get £17.9m. Another 12 boroughs in difficulty applied for cash but received nothing.
The DCSF says the funding is based on immediate need, while London Councils’ calculations are for a seven-year period.
The Local Government Association welcomed the new investment, but said the spending required was still likely to outstrip what the DCSF is willing to pay.
The spike in demand for primary school places has been caused by a rising birth rate, and a higher proportion of parents sending their children to state schools because of the recession.
In urban areas such as London, the problem has been intensified as the recession has made parents reluctant or unable to move out of the city when they start a family.
In July, the DCSF announced £200m to tackle the problem, which had been taken from a redundant Private Finance Initiative contingency fund.