Councils warn schools facing places crisis

Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
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SCHOOLS could be pushed to breaking over the next decade by the need to provide almost a million more places for pupils, town hall chiefs have warned today.

They suggest the country is heading for a “tipping point” where there is no money or space left to expand schools any further.

It comes amid claims from Labour that almost one in five schools are already over capacity.

Official figures predict that there may be around 900,000 extra pupils in England’s schools over the next decade. The Local Government Association estimate it will cost £12bn to create enough school places for these children. It urged the Government to ensure that all school places are fully funded and to allow councils to open new schools according to the needs of the local community. They made the call as the deadline approaches for parents to apply for primary places on Thursday.

The Labour party have also put out figures showing almost one -in-five schools are over capacity. They warned that in more than half of the education authority areas in Yorkshire at least a quarter of primary schools were either full or over capacity.

The seven areas were Barnsley, Calderdale, the East Riding – where more than two thirds of primary schools are said to be over capacity, North Yorkshire, Rotherham, Sheffield and York. In York 46 per cent of primaries were said to be above capacity and in North Yorkshire the figure was 44.5 per cent.

Calderdale, Doncaster, North Yorkshire and Sheffield were also said to have more than a quarter of their secondary schools full or over capacity.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt criticised David Cameron for “irresponsibly diverting millions away” to fund what he called the “pet project free schools programme.”

Labour highlighted free schools which had not filled half their places since opening including the sixth form Chapeltown Academy which opened in Sheffield last year.

By the end of Thursday applications are expected to be made for around 370,000 three and four-year-olds who are to start primary school in the autumn.

There have been ongoing concerns about pressure on school places, particularly for primary-age children, fuelled in part in recent years by a rising birth rate.

The Government has pledged £7.35bn so far to create more places, but the LGA argued that this still leaves a major shortfall.

Around 90,000 places were created in 2012/13 by councils, and more are being established – but the scale of the problem is too big to be solved at a local level, the association insisted.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “We fear a tipping point could 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.”

Conservative Minister Nick Gibb said: “The last Labour government failed to plan for the future, cutting funding for school places during a baby boom while allowing immigration to get out of control, and they wasted millions on their failed Building Schools for the Future programme.”

He said by contrast the current Government has invested an extra £5bn to create new school places and spent £18bn improving school buildings.