Shortage of primary school places could affect education quality

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The quality of children's education could be affected by the dramatic rush to find 250,000 extra primary school places by September 2013, according to the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

According to the committee, MPs failed to react fast enough to the dramatic rise in demand for primary school places in England. As a result, poorly performing schools could expand to meet the demand for places.

A report by the committee highlights how Ofsted has expressed concerns about the impact overcrowding and poorly maintained buildings are having on educational standards.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: "It does not take much imagination to realise that educational opportunities and standards might be diminished if specialist areas, such as music rooms and libraries, are converted into classrooms, poorly performing schools expanded, or playgrounds used to house children in overcrowded temporary structures."

According to the report: "The number of children entering reception classes has been rising for some years, putting pressure on school places with greater stress falling on particular local authority areas where population growth has accelerated.

"As a result the number of children in infant classes of more than 30 has more than doubled in the last five years and 20% of primary schools were full or over capacity in May 2012."

The report also highlighted the impact that the government's policies of creating free schools and academies was having on councils' ability to respond to the demand for school places.

It said: "Local authorities can direct maintained schools to expand or close depending on fluctuations in demand in their local area. They do not have this power over academies or free schools, nor can they create schools that are not academies or free schools."

Schools Minister David Laws said: "Margaret Hodge is right that there is a severe need to ensure there are enough school places but she has failed to pin the blame where it belongs - at the door of the last government of which she was a member.

"Her report correctly states that the department failed to adequately plan for the rising population, but does not explain that the responsibility for this failure lies with the previous schools secretary, Ed Balls, who ignored the rising birth rates reported by the ONS."

School Leadership Today
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