Councils face primary schools ‘crisis’

9 Jun 09
Councils have warned that a population surge in urban areas has created a ‘crisis’ in demand for primary school places.

By David Williams

Councils have warned that a population surge in urban areas has created a ‘crisis’ in demand for primary school places.

Data from London Councils leaked to Public Finance suggest that in six years 16,000 children will be without a primary school place in the capital. A further 15,000 will have to be taught in mobile classrooms or temporary ‘bulge’ classes.

London Councils also estimated a capital funding shortfall of £260m in the current Spending Review period, to 2011, and another £480m gap between 2011 and 2014.

The body has described the situation as a ‘crisis’, and is due to publish a report on April 20. It is also setting up an all-party discussion at the House of Commons later this month, with the aim of agreeing some longer-term solutions.

In the invitation to the Commons meeting, London Councils called on the government to release emergency funds.

‘The level of government funding available to build new classrooms and schools is simply inadequate,’ it said.

The same situation is developing in urban areas around England, and some local authorities say the basis for local education funding should be revised.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that the UK birth rate has increased every year since 2001, after a long-term downward trend. There were 21,000 more babies born in 2007 than in the previous year, and fertility levels are the highest they have been since 1973.

Slough council is one of the authorities affected. Its School Places Plan for 2008 to 2011, submitted to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, was based on a forecast of a modest increase in population. But the birthrate increased by 20% between 2005 and 2007.

The borough already has more applications for primary schools than it has places. It is currently three full reception classes short, and predicts that by 2012 it will need 11 new permanent reception classes.

The borough, which has an annual budget of £100m, estimates a £231m capital building project will be needed to meet demand. ‘The DCSF haven’t helped us in any way financially or in planning,’ said the borough’s education director, Clair Pyper.

‘They said we’ve had our money and we should have done our planning better.’

Elsewhere, the latest figures for Birmingham show there were 75,800 children aged four and under in the city in 2007, up from 69,300 in five years.

Birmingham City Council has already committed cash to enlarging five schools, adding 800 school places, and to building a new school to provide another 630. A council spokesman added: ‘In the longer term, we are aware that we will have to provide new schools and are actively looking at potential sites.’

A DCSF spokesman said: ‘We have already agreed and allocated funding for schools for the 2008 to 2011 period based on pupil projections by local authorities, but London Councils are looking into whether these projections were sufficiently accurate.

‘We will read their research with interest and take it into account in future decisions about school funding.’

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