Thousands of children face missing out on a secondary school place in the next five years with more than half of all councils in England at risk of not being able to meet demand, according to new analysis by the Local Government Association.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the country faces a secondary school places “emergency” unless government gives councils the powers to open schools or direct academies to expand.
As children and young people prepare to return to school after the summer holidays, the LGA analysis reveals that unless more secondary school places are created, 13 local authorities will face a secondary school place shortfall in 2019/20.
This will rise to 25 in 2020/21, 46 in 2021/22 and 54 in 2022/23 and by 2023/24, a total of 71 councils (52 per cent) face not being able to meet demand for 133,926 places.
The school places warning comes as the population bulge seen in primary schools, where councils have created an extra 600,000 places since 2010, starts to impact on secondary schools.
Councils have created extra primary school places by expanding existing council-maintained primary schools, where councils have the powers they need to require schools to expand. In some cases they have also commissioned places in academies and free schools.
However with two-thirds of secondary schools now academies, councils have very limited ability to fulfil their statutory obligations to provide school places.
To address this, the LGA is calling for government to give councils 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.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“No family should face uncertainty over securing their child’s secondary school. But the reality is we face an emergency in secondary school places where the number of pupils is growing at a far faster rate than the number of places available.
“This is why councils need to be given the powers to help solve this crisis. As a starting point they should 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 allowed to open schools themselves.
“It is only by working with councils, rather than shutting them out, that we can meet the challenges currently facing the education system.”