Councils call for powers to open schools and meet places demand

Christine Blower. Photo by Simon Hulme.
Christine Blower. Photo by Simon Hulme.
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TOWN hall leaders have renewed their call for councils to be allowed to open their own schools or compel academies in their area to expand as the nation’s pupils wait to discover which secondary school they have been allocated to tomorrow.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that unless this happens, the legal duty placed on authorities to ensure every child has a place will be undeliverable.

However the Department for Education (DfE) has accused the LGA of scaremongering and said it should be focusing on using the funds it receives to make sure places are available.

Under current rules, there is a presumption that all new state schools will be academies or free schools, run autonomously from councils.

Town halls wanting to open new schools to meet demand must first run a competition to find a sponsor to run an academy.

The chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, Coun Roy Perry, said: “Councils have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place available to them but find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to ensure schools, including academies, expand.

“Councils have already created an extra 300,000 primary places, but those children will soon need to move up to secondary schools.

“Councils will do everything they can to rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place, but all schools must play their part, too.

“If academies are not willing to expand, then powers to create new schools should be returned to local authorities themselves if they are unable to secure high quality free school sponsors in their communities.”

The National Union of Teachers’ General Secretary, Christine Blower, added: “Local authorities need to be able to open maintained schools to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

“They also need to be able to ensure that existing schools, including academies, will expand when required.

“It is ridiculous to exclude the one body that has local knowledge, effective strategic oversight and democratic accountability.”

The LGA also wants funding for school places to delivered in five-year blocks to aid planning.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Instead of scaremongering, the LGA needs to ensure they use the funds provided by Government to secure enough places.

“Councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient school places in their area, and we expect them to plan effectively and make good investment decisions. This requires certainty, which is why funding is allocated three and a half years in advance of places being needed - giving councils time to plan while still allowing the flexibility needed to make adjustments should local circumstances change.

“Where local authorities identify the need for a new school they are required by law to invite proposals to run a new free school and then forward these to the department to decide who would be best placed to do this.”