Warning about school planning as children receive primary school offers


As more than half a million children receive their primary school offers, town hall leaders are calling on the Government to clarify how councils will be expected to provide enough places for everyone when all schools have converted to academies.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is highlighting that under proposals in the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper, councils will retain their responsibility to make sure all children get a school place, but from 2022, when all schools are academies and free schools, will have no powers to force schools to expand – even where there is demand and capacity within the school.

Academies are able to set their own pupil intake numbers, with no requirement to consider local need, while finding suitable sponsors with the capacity to establish successful new schools is already proving a challenge in some areas.

An additional 336,000 primary school places will be needed by 2024. Councils have already created an extra 300,000 primary places since 2010, but this has often been achieved within the 85 per cent of primary schools that are council-maintained, converting non-classroom areas, increasing class sizes and diverting money away from vital school repair programmes to create more spaces.

Under a fully academised system, sponsors will be invited to submit proposals to provide these. High quality sponsors will be needed to establish and lead successful schools, however some areas of the country are already struggling to find suitable sponsors, therefore work will need to be carried out to ensure that enough sponsors are available to provide the school places we need.

The final decision on a new school will be made by central government, rather than the local council, despite its unique understanding of local needs.

The LGA has also called on the Government to make it clear how vulnerable children will be accommodated within the new system. In a fully academised system, a council cannot make a school accept a child unless they have a formal statement of special needs, even where it can offer them the best support. Any future legislation will need to protect all children and puts their needs first.

Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Local councils have been working hard to not only fulfil their duty to ensure every child has a school place, but to make sure as many as possible get their first choice – it isn’t just about a place for a child, but the right place.

“If proposals within the Education White Paper go forward and all schools convert to academies, councils must be given powers to force schools to expand where this is in the best interests of new and existing pupils. Most academies will be keen to work with their local authorities, but in the minority of situations where this isn’t the case, appropriate powers are vital to ensure all children get a suitable place.

“Councils will also need a greater role in judging and approving applications for new schools to make sure they’re appropriate for communities, and will need to be able to place vulnerable children in the schools that can offer them the best support.”

For more information, see: http://www.local.gov.uk/home

Professional Development Today