Primary schools’ growing crisis

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MICHAEL GOVE’S schools revolution is proceeding at a furious pace. Across the country, failing schools are being transformed into academies, new schools are being set up, more and more independent schools are considering free-school status and capacity is increasing all the time.

There is a problem, however. The revolution is not happening quickly enough to keep pace with the nation’s population explosion and nowhere is this more keenly felt than in Yorkshire. Indeed, according to Bradford councillor Ralph Berry, pupils could soon be having lessons in “huts and portable buildings” as rising birth rates and immigration in cities such as Leeds and Bradford – which is growing faster than almost anywhere else in Western Europe – create an education crisis. Across the region as a whole, the number of primary-age pupils is set to rise by almost 50,000 in the next five years.

None of this, however, should be news to the Government. After all, the birth-rate trend has been clear for some time, it is now some years since the unanticipated rush of immigrants from Eastern Europe became apparent and most parents have long been aware of the difficulties of getting children into schools which councils insist are full.

Yet, in spite of all the warning signs, the number of primary schools in England fell from almost 18,500 in 1997 to fewer than 17,000 in 2010, according to Government figures. When in opposition, Mr Gove recognised the need to reverse this decline dramatically. Yet, for all his frenetic activity since taking office, the crisis has grown.

Although the problem is not of his making, the Education Secretary needs to think quickly if his reforms are not going to be derailed by demography, blighting the education of thousands of youngsters. Having set up a process by which new schools can be established by a variety of bodies, Mr Gove must come up with greater incentives to entice more providers to come forward. For the problem with the Conservatives’ big society is that it is getting bigger all the time.