WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE PRIMARY PLACES SHORTFALL
Where is the funding to create new capacity?
The Government will have to do something about the chronic shortage of Primary school places.In Greater London alone, primary schools are at an average of 110% of capacity. The problem has crept up on the DFE and it has only belatedly acknowledged the extent and scale of the problem. Figures show that more than 800,000 extra places will be needed in state-funded nursery and primary schools by the end of the decade. Demand for primary places is projected to increase by 434,000 by 2018, with acute shortages projected in cities such as London, Manchester and Bristol. According to official forecasts, the number of under-11s in the education system will rise from 4m to 4.82m by 2020 – taking the primary school population to its highest level since the early 70s. New free schools (so far just 24 are up and running)aren’t always located where demand is greatest.
Significantly increasing capacity over the medium term is not something that can be avoided. But public funding for this is in short supply. There are three options in terms of funding the new capacity. Public capital, PFI and straight private capital. The Government looks likely to exhaust the first two options before they move onto the third, because of the perceived political risks associated with it. But how long will they take in holding out against straight private cash, not least because PFI is now showing up on the books? Clearly accessing private capital is politically problematic, but with other options limited and so long as its seen as funding for additional schools, then maybe its manageable. One thing is for sure much more thought has got to go in to working out where new Free schools need to be established to meet surging demand. Establishing them in areas where demand is not greatest will not make much sense and will look wasteful.
In the Autumn Statement 2011, the Treasury announced an additional £600 million of capital basic need funding for schools in England. On 11 April 2012, the Secretary of State announced the allocation of this funding for local authorities. The £600m will be allocated to those authorities that show a shortfall in places as at 2013/14. 110 authorities will have a proportionate share of the £600m, based on data from the 2011 schools capacity forecast. Some experts believe that government funding plans fall far short of what will be needed to cover the additional places that will be required. There are also concerns that many Primary schools will increase very significantly in size, which will be unpopular with parents.Independent schools may see this as a marketing opportunity as small class size and good pupil teacher ratios are seen as key attractions of the independent sector.