On August 27th, the BBC published a news story highlighting a rising primary school population in England, which is putting pressure on budgets and raising fears of “supersize” schools.
In the article, the Local Government Association is reported as saying that councils have had to fill a £1bn shortfall in funding for school places. However, the issue this article doesn’t consider is the impact of demand for places at specific schools. Across the board, Councils may well need to provide 130,000 additional places in the next three years, but some thought needs to be given as to how, or where, this demand for places can best be serviced.
It’s interesting to see that research from Netmums, reported in the BBC article, showed that some parents did not think that the size of a school was an important factor in the quality of education. The 2012 Schools Admissions Code talks about the ability of schools that can act as their own admissions authority, such as Academies, to increase the number of pupils they admit. This comes from the Governments philosophical belief that popular schools should be allowed to expand.
If parents are being encouraged to choose which school they want to send their child to, be it Primary or Secondary, this must be taken into account when allocating places.
Personally speaking, I’d be interested to know what the LGA has been doing to lobby Government for extra funding before now. It’s entirely reasonable for them to say that councils have had to fill a £1bn shortfall in funding for school places, but what have they been doing to forecast this shortfall? Is this a case of being wise after the event?
Councils can claim money for schools places from housing developers, yet approaches to this vary. Is there more that Councils themselves could be doing to anticipate changes in their resident population, consider how this will impact on demand for places at local schools and use funding claw-back opportunities, such as Section 106 contributions, or the Community Infrastructure Levy to mitigate this impact?