With a record number of entries onto school rolls, local authorities are calling on the Government for greater clarity on the management of school places to ensure a balanced system. In partnership with the NUT, think tank LGiU surveyed 95 Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members for Children’s Services to assess the effectiveness of the existing school place planning powers.
With more than half of secondary schools now academies or free schools: independent of local authorities and accountable to the Secretary of State, the role of councils in organising school admissions has become more and more unclear. Respondents to the survey warned that gaps have been created in accountability, admissions monitoring, school support services and school place planning.
The LGiU found consensus that a ‘middle tier’ was required to provide strategic oversight of all schools, including academies and free schools, and that local government was best placed to perform this role.
Dr Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGIU, commented:
“Schools place planning has always been an incendiary political issue, dominating headlines and reverberating around breakfast tables. Local authorities have a duty to ensure that there are sufficient and sufficiently diverse school places available to meet the needs of their communities. Too few places and the community is ill served, too many and public resource is wasted. Failures in school place planning have many and complex causes, but research for this report suggests a correlation with the number of academies: schools in which the local authority has no direct power to increase or decrease the number of places available.
“Local authorities rightly see themselves as the champions of all children and parents in their localities irrespective of which schools they attend. This political advocacy role is vital and exists entirely independently of their formal powers to direct schools. In a fast changing context, however, we must ensure that we support this role rather than undermine it.”
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, added:
“This current shortage of school places has come about as a direct result of complete mismanagement by Government and their incoherent free schools programme which has seen schools built where none were required.
“It is an absurd situation in which we find ourselves. Children have an absolute right to an education and not in oversized classes, inappropriate buildings or on a shift basis.
“To ensure every child gets a decent education school place planning needs to be returned to safe hands. It is local authorities who have the knowledge of what is needed and where in local communities, not the Secretary of State.”
Notes to Editors
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The report will be launched and discussed at a series of fringes, entitled ‘Standing room only – have we enough schools places?’, which are taking place at the three Party Conferences. For more information, please see the LGiU website.
The full report is available here: https://lgiu.org/
Key findings in the report
- 91 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that local government requires the power to establish a new community school without reference to the Secretary of State (SoS)
- 87 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that local government requires the power to close Academy or Free School without reference to the SoS
- 84 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that local government requires the power to propose the merger of an Academy or Free School and a maintained school
- 83 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that local government requires the power to increase the size of an Academy or Free School without reference to the SoS
- 78 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that local government requires the power to decrease to the size of an Academy or Free School without reference to the SoS
- 71 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that local government requires the power to open a sponsored Academy or Free School without reference to the SoS
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About the NUT
With over 325,000 members, the National Union of Teachers is the largest teachers’ organisation in Europe. The NUT recruits into membership only those who are qualifying or have qualified as teachers and has promoted consistently the idea that the educational interests of children and the needs of teachers are synonymous. It has members working in all phases and sectors of education, including in local authority advisory, inspection and support services, who contribute to the development of NUT policy.