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Primary schools face growing demand for places

30/04/2013 Joanna
There has been much discussion of late as to how to deal with the expected boom in demand for primary schools places, which is likely to create new teaching vacancies.

Demand for school places on the up

With the number of live births rising by 22 per cent between 2001 and 2011, the National Audit Office has estimated that 256,000 new school places would be needed between May 2012 and 2014/15, of which 240,000 will be in primary schools.

The government is partly seeking to redress this through its free schools programme, with those opening this September expected to accommodate around 50,000 additional pupils once they have been filled.

Moreover, last month education secretary Michael Gove announced that local authorities would be allocated £1.6 billion of basic need funding between 2013 and 2015 to help them provide additional school places where required in their area.

As parents waited in April to see whether their children had got into their preferred primary schools, a DfE spokeswoman stated that the government would have spent £5 billion by 2015 on creating new schools places and anticipated that 190,000 would be created by September.

She asserted: "We are confident that our huge investment will mean councils are able to deal with the extra demand for primary school places through building new schools and expanding existing good ones."

However, David Simmonds from the Local Government Association was less optimistic, warning that "extensive bureaucratic delays" were holding up the opening of new schools.

Class sizes likely to grow

The government has also responded to growing demand for school places by relaxed rules governing class sizes, so that the number of pupils in a class can exceed 30 for several years.

According to the Guardian, schools will respond to this change by teaching record numbers of pupils in classes of 31 children or more as of September.

A number of urban councils around the country told the newspaper that this practice was increasingly prevalent in their schools, or was likely to be in future.

Yet while some councillors did not see this as a problem, the Institute of Education's Professor Peter Blatchford warned against the "growing tide of opinion that class sizes aren't important".

He said smaller classes meant children received more attention and opportunities to develop their analytical skills, whereas studies have shown that class sizes of more than 30 were particularly damaging for low ability pupils of children with special needs.

The situation in London

Pressure on school places is especially pronounced in London, which accounts for 39 per cent of the national shortfall on primary school places, rising to 52 per cent for secondary school places.

The Pan-London Admissions Board published figures in April showing that 81 per cent of the city's pupils will be admitted to their first choice of primary school in September, but that nearly five per cent were not allocated a place at any of the schools listed by their parents.

Analysis by London Councils has also indicated that demand for permanent school places in the capital will continue to escalate after 2015, with the shortfall across primary and secondary schools there likely to exceed 118,000 by 2016/17.

The organisation's 'Do the Maths' report has called on the government to ensure that London's councils are allocated funding that reflects the demand to attend schools in their area and to support their long-term investment in school places.

London Councils' executive member for children's services, Peter John, commented:  "Boroughs are working harder than ever to ensure every child has a school place.

"But we are fast reaching the limit of how many extensions and conversions can be made to existing buildings - soon the only way of creating extra places will be by building new schools."

His sentiments were echoed by the chair of the Association of London Directors of Children's Services, Yvette Stanley, who warned: "We should be under no illusion about the scale of the task before us."

She said planning for all new schools in the capital needed to commence now, in order to deliver the required "hundreds" of new primary school classes and at least 22 new secondary schools, suggesting that the availability of teaching jobs in London may also be set to escalate.

Posted by Tim ColmanADNFCR-2164-ID-801579180-ADNFCR
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