Government dismisses claims of a ‘school places crisis’

Tristram Hunt MP.
Tristram Hunt MP.
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THE DEPARTMENT for Education has insisted that all councils should have plans in place to cope with demand for primary school places this September after Labour accused the Government of creating a crisis.

The Opposition has published analysis suggesting that numbers of primary pupils at the start of the academic year in September will outstrip the places currently available in more than a quarter of council areas in England.

Freedom of information responses from 131 local authorities showed that 32 – a quarter of the total – believe that Government funding for additional primary places is insufficient to meet demand for 2015/16.

However the DfE dismissed Labour’s figures as “bogus”, arguing that they did not take into account new places created since 2012/13 – the latest year for which figures are available. A spokesman said the Government was providing £5bn for new primary places over the course of the Parliament, which had already resulted in the creation of space for 260,000 more children.

Figures released by the DfE shortly before Christmas showed that 3,514 schools across England had more pupils than their official capacity last May, but no councils reported having more pupils than places overall. However, with primary school rolls expected to rise sharply in the next few years, some 40 councils (26 per cent of the total) were forecasting that they will have more pupils than their 2012/13 space provision by the start of the 2014/15 academic year.

Labour argues that money has been diverted away from areas threatened with shortages by the Government’s focus on the free school programme, following a National Audit Office report which found that £241m of the £950m projected capital spend on mainstream free schools was in areas which did not need extra school places.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said: “David Cameron is failing in his most important duty to children in this country – to ensure every child has a place at a good local school. He has created a crisis in school places, ignoring the warnings and diverting millions of pounds away from children in areas where there are shortages of places.”

However a DfE spokesman said: “These figures are bogus. They are based on a completely false comparison and would only be true if local authorities had taken no action to create places since 2012/13, despite the huge amounts of money we have given them. We are giving councils £5bn to spend on new school places over this Parliament – double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period.”