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No room at the inn

Government pupil projections show our demand for school places far outstrips supply, says Academy Today editor Stephanie Broad

Posted by Stephanie Broad | July 24, 2015 | People, policy, politics

The government has released its National Pupil Projections - Future Trends in Pupil Numbers, which predicts our primary and secondary school places will not be able to meet the demand caused by a rising birth rate, falling death rate and increased migration until 2024, when the pressure is likely to ease. 

From now until 2024, the secondary school population is projected to continue rising, reaching 3,287,000 (an increase of 20% on the 2015 population). The primary school population is expected to rise by 336,000 (six per cent).

We now need the government to address this ‘baby boom’ by forming a plan to accommodate enough pupils. The majority of UK families will be looking for a place in the maintained or academy sector, and the government has a responsibility to offer every child a place, that needs one. What are the alternatives? An independent school education now costs nearly £300,000, and home-schooling requires one or more parents to withdraw from employment and can be subject to checks from the council.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, says: “The number of children in education is still rising but the government lacks a coherent plan. Some schools are already stretched to their limits. 

“The current system is fragmented and free schools are an inefficient and insufficient way of meeting the numbers. NAHT believes that some local agency should have the strategic role in the planning of places, able to commission new schools and places in both the academy and maintained sectors.”

Could opening new academy schools be the answer? Building new schools and extending existing facilities can make room for more local children as well as improving standards. The government’s academy and free schools programme is ramping up, but their target is focused on converting existing schools into academies rather than creating new schools. So where will the budget come from?

Hobby concludes: “Schools are also running low on money. The government is not taking account of pensions, national insurance, cost of living, increments, living wages and – crucially – the cost to schools of picking up on cuts to other public services. An increase in pupil numbers is an added pressure on schools at a very difficult time.' 

The Local Government Association says councils are doing well to supply more school places: 'Councils and schools have proven they can rise to the challenge and be both innovative and cost effective. In all, 300,000 primary school places have been created since May 2010 with many schools going to extraordinary lengths to ensure there is a place for every child, including increasing class sizes, diverting money from vital school repair programmes and converting non-classroom space, such as music rooms. 

'Government now needs to properly address the issue by committing to provide long term and sufficient funding for school places so that councils and schools can continue to successfully meet the need.'

Got something to say on school places? I’m always keen to hear your views. Contact me at stephanie.broad@wildfirecomms.co.uk

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