England school places shortage 'made worse by academies'

Government urged to restore powers to councils to open new schools to cope with demand

Councils are warning that a looming shortage in the number of school places across England is being made worse by academies, as last decade’s baby boom enters secondary schools over the next five years.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for the government to restore powers to councils enabling them to open new maintained schools if residents support them, and for new powers for councils to require academies to expand to meet local demand.

Anntoinette Bramble, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said that without such changes children were at risk of not having a secondary school place.

“Our secondary school places crisis is now just one year away and this will be the reality for thousands of families without action,” Bramble said.

Last year, about 20% of families in England failed to gain a place at their first preference school, with the rate rising above 40% in several London boroughs including Lambeth and Lewisham. One in eight families in London failed to gain a place at any of their choices.

Councils say their position is made impossible by conflicting rules, which place a legal duty on them to ensure adequate school places for local children but allow only autonomous academies and free schools to be opened to provide more places, other than in rare circumstances.

With most state secondary schools in England now academies, the problem is made worse because local authorities cannot direct them to expand their intake or offer more places to meet forecast high demand, as they can with maintained schools.

“Councils need to be allowed to open new maintained schools and direct academies to expand. It makes no sense for councils to be given the responsibility to plan for school places but then not be allowed to open schools themselves,” Bramble said.

“The government needs to work closely with councils to meet the challenges currently facing the education system.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “We are determined to create more choice for parents when it comes to their children’s education and we have created around 920,000 school places since 2010, and are on track to see that number rise to a million by 2020.

“Standards have also risen, with 85% of schools now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, compared with 68% in 2010.”

As parents and families prepare to apply for school places in 2020 when applications open later this year, the LGA says the DfE’s statistics suggest 15 areas have a shortage of classrooms, with the number of councils affected then rapidly increasing.

By 2022, about a third of councils are expected to have a shortage of places for nearly 60,000 pupils. That figure rises to nearly half of all local authorities in England by the school year starting in September 2024, when more than 120,000 young people are “at risk of no place” if no new schools are built.

In recent years, councils have created an estimated 600,000 places in primary schools to cope with the mini baby boom of the previous decade. But as children in that group move on to secondary school, councils say they have far less ability to provide more places.

Last year, councils say, they created 96,000 places through their existing primary and secondary schools and, in a small number of cases, by commissioning places in academies. But only 37,000 of the new places were in secondary schools.

The LGA’s plea comes as the government is reviving plans to rapidly expand the proportion of academies and free schools in England.


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Small Yorkshire school helping some of most needy pupils faces axe
Life chances will be blighted says Grove Academy head amid slated 83% funding cut for school serving excluded young

Sally Weale Education correspondent

13, Nov, 2018 @4:33 PM

Article image
England faces school places emergency, say councils
By 2023 more than half of councils will be unable to meet secondary demand, says LGA

Richard Adams and Jessica Elgot

30, Aug, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Cash crisis forces secondary schools in England to cut 15,000 staff
Teaching unions say £2.8bn real-terms drop in funding has driven schools to breaking point

Sally Weale Education correspondent

07, Feb, 2018 @3:17 PM

Article image
Academies 'making shortage of school places worse'

Spending watchdog says non-expansion of independent schools could drive up pupil numbers in normal schools

Rajeev Syal

27, Jun, 2013 @11:03 PM

Article image
The malign effects of coalition education policy in England’s schools | Letters: Frank Field MP, Cathy Wood, Michael Pyke, Fiona Carnie, Rev Canon David Jennings and others
Letters: It may be that all the chaos and confusion have simply provided an effective smokescreen for the primary purpose of the piecemeal privatisation of state education in our country

03, Feb, 2015 @7:51 PM

Article image
‘Free school cut through our community like a knife’
Suffolk was at the forefront of ministers’ flagship free school policy. Fiona Millar talks to young people about its impact and compares the hype with the GCSE results

Fiona Millar

22, Sep, 2015 @6:15 AM

Article image
'Our school has cut to the bone. Our teachers are on their knees'
Ministers want to distribute funding more fairly around England, but schools say there just isn’t enough cash overall

Sally Weale Education correspondent

16, Mar, 2017 @3:39 PM

Article image
More than 600,000 pupils in England taught by unqualified teachers, says Labour
Party says many school staff have no guaranteed training in safeguarding children, and standards are at risk

Rajeev Syal

25, Jul, 2017 @7:03 PM

Article image
Sharp rise in pupil exclusions from English state schools
Unions point to funding cuts after permanent exclusions rise by about 1,000 from 2016 to 2017

Richard Adams Education editor

19, Jul, 2018 @1:12 PM

Article image
Academies and free schools get right to reserve places for poorer pupils
New code designed to stop middle-income families moving near to popular schools – but other state schools miss out on cash

Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent

26, May, 2011 @11:05 PM