Secondary crisis looms next year, warn councils

Thousands of desperately needed new secondary school places have now been created by councils but parents and children still face the prospect of missing out on a place as early as next year.

Analysis by the Local Government Association reveals that councils created 96,000 school places last year by working with their existing primary and secondary schools and, in some cases, commissioning places in academies and free schools.

Of that total, 37,000 new places were created by councils in secondary schools. But with two-thirds of secondary schools now academies, council leaders say that councils have no powers to open more secondary schools or direct academies to expand.

As children and young people prepare to return to school after the summer holidays, the LGA’s latest analysis reveals that unless more secondary school places are created, 15 councils will face a secondary school place shortfall in 2020/21. This will rise to 27 in 2021/22, 49 in 2022/23 and 64 in 2023/24, and, by 2024/25, a total of 71 councils (48 per cent) face not being able to meet demand for 123,195 places.

To address this looming crisis, the LGA is calling for the government to use next month’s Spending Round to give councils back the power to open new maintained schools where that is the local preference; and hand back the responsibility for making decisions about opening new schools. It should also give councils the same powers to direct free schools and academies to expand that they currently hold for maintained schools.
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Despite all odds, councils have been able to provide desperately-needed places for parents looking to secure their child’s place at secondary school in the past year. No family should face uncertainty over their child’s school place. But our secondary school places crisis is now just one year away and this will be the reality for thousands of families without action.

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

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