Hunt hits out over ‘half-empty’ free schools in region

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SHADOW Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has hit out at the Government for creating “half-empty” free schools at a time when cities like Leeds face major pressure for places.

The Labour MP met with parents and teachers in Guiseley yesterday where two schools are being expanded because of the increased demand.

He said: “It’s not right that while there are free schools standing half-empty on one side of town, local authorities are not allowed to build new schools where there is pressure on places – Labour will change that so that new schools are re located where they are most needed.”

There has been controversy over the £3.1m Leeds Jewish free school which opened with just eight pupils last year and has taken on just 11 in year seven last month – meaning both of its first two year groups are less than half full.

Labour said that although Leeds had enough places to meet total demand next year there were hotspots were demand “significantly outstrips supply”.

There are said to be 2,346 children in large class sizes of more than 30 in Leeds – which is 
more than a threefold increase on 2010.

However Education Minister Nick Gibb, who was visiting the area yesterday, hit back saying that the coalition had invested far more both in Leeds and nationally on creating new school places than the previous Labour Government had done. He said the Government had doubled the amount being invested in creating new places.

Mr Hunt hosted a discussion at Guiseley Nursery and Infants yesterday with Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Pudsey Jamie Hanley about school places.

The school took on a “bulge” class this year because of demand. Both Guiseley Infants and St Oswalds Junior School in the town are set to expand to become primary schools from next year.The expansion is being delivered with more than £4m Government funding.

However a report to Leeds City Council’s executive board last month identified a shortfall of more than £40m in Government funding to create the places needed over the next five years.

Mr Gibb was also in the area yesterday visiting Crossley Street Primary in Wetherby after being invited by MP for Elmet and Rothwell Alec Shelbrooke.

He said he had been impressed with both the school and its pupils.