Places fears over plans to turn all state schools into academies

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TOWN HALL bosses have called on the Government to explain how councils can be expected to ensure they provide enough places if all schools are turned into academies which are run outside of their control.

The Local Government Association has questioned Ministers’ academies plans as councils make offers of primary school places to more than half-a-million children across the country.

Parents across England will discover today where their child has been allocated. Their chances of getting into their first choice of primary in Yorkshire for the 2016/17 academic year will vary greatly depending on where they live.

However the LGA is focusing on future years by raising concerns about how the system will work in future if the Government pushes ahead with its plan to turn all state schools into academies by 2022 but still expects council to fulfil a statutory duty to ensure enough school places exist in each authority area.

Academies are able to set their own pupil intake numbers, with no requirement to consider local need.

And the LGA warned that local councils have no powers force these autonomous schools to expand to meet demand.

Coun Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Local councils have been working hard to not only fulfil their duty to ensure every child has a school place, but to make sure as many as possible get their first choice – it isn’t just about a place for a child, but the right place.

“If proposals within the Education White Paper go forward and all schools convert to academies, councils must be given powers to force schools to expand where this is in the best interests of new and existing pupils.

“Most academies will be keen to work with their local authorities, but in the minority of situations where this isn’t the case, appropriate powers are vital to ensure all children get a suitable place.

“Councils will also need a greater role in judging and approving applications for new schools to make sure they’re appropriate for communities, and will need to be able to place vulnerable children in the schools that can offer them the best support.”

The LGA says around 336,000 new primary school places will be needed by 2024.

Councils have already created an extra 300,000 primary places since 2010, but the LGA says this has often been achieved within the 85 per cent of primary schools that are not academies. Under a fully academised system, sponsors will be invited to submit proposals to provide these places. The LGA warned that high quality sponsors will be needed to establish and lead successful schools, but that some areas of the country are already struggling to find suitable sponsors.

Leeds City Council is one of the first authorities to announce how places have been allocated today. Last year the city was embroiled in a row with a parents group forming to protest about a lack of places in north Leeds. This year the council has been able to offer more children a place at their first choice school than in 2015/16 - despite it being a bigger year group in 2016/17. Figures show 87 per cent got a place at their first choice primary compared with 85 per cent last year. The council said schools and its places planning team had created an extra 425 places for this September.