256,000 new school places needed by 2014
A National Audit Office (NAO) report on the Department for Education (DfE) predicts 256,000 new school places are needed by 2014.
Demand for school places has mounted after rising birth rates and immigration. The report states: “The rise in children born in England between 2001 and 2011 was the largest ten-year increase since the 1950s and increased demand for primary school places.”
The DfE is responsible for ensuring adequate funds for local authorities, who are required to provide enough school places for every child as well as ensuring that the funds are utilised to meet demands.
The report said: “A lack of sufficient places can create local ‘hotspots’ where demand outstrips places available within a local area.”
The DfE is funding £4.3 billion between 2010 and 2014 to local authorities for new school places.
More than 20% of schools were over capacity in 2012, and 29% of local authorities were funded less than needed in 2012-13 (according to pupil numbers by local authorities).
The report claimed the department “needs a better understanding of costs, clarity about how it will allocate funding to areas of need, and a better understanding of the impact its funding contribution is having”.
After the 2010 Spending Review, the DfE reduced spending by 60%. This provided an extra £3.2 billion for new school places in 2014-15.The fund was enlarged to £4.3 billion, by the Treasury.
The report states that the DfE’s funding assessments “are based on incomplete information” – such as inflation and land costs of building new schools.
DfE published its own statistics in July 2012 which predicted a continued decline in state-funded secondary school numbers (up to age 15) until 2015, after which “the increases in primary pupil numbers will start to flow through”.
The statistics also said: “By 2020, numbers [in nursery and state-funded schools] are projected to be 18% higher than in 2012, reaching levels last seen in the 1970s.”
Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said on the report: “Access to a school place is a right for every child, yet in some parts of the country there are simply not enough school places…provision must be stepped up so that every child can enjoy the high quality start to which they are entitled.”