UK: Schools spent £1bn to accommodate more students; overcrowded schools a huge issue for years
WORLD / U.K – School councils have spent £1bn to accommodate more students, even though the Department of Education stated it has given £5bn to councils toward new school places since the last election.
This has been ongoing for several years now, with primary schools seeing a year-on-year rise in the number of pupils. Temporary classrooms and building extensions have been put into place on many of these schools. 77 primary schools have pupil numbers more than 800.
Higher birth rates to blame?
In some areas of England, particularly in London and the Southeast, changing demographics and an increased birth rate have led to particular pressures on school places. The LGA says that councils have made room for 90,000 extra students, but 130,000 more will have to be added in the next three years for there to be ample space for pupils.
At Birkdale Primary School, the playground was built on the roof of the school because of the need for more space. The project costed £1.5mn, bundled with adding new classrooms, kitchen, and entrance to the school of 378 pupils. Having to accommodate for more students has had a financial impact on schools. The £1bn that was spent on extra room for students, was actually meant for maintenance and other projects.
Councils say that the rush to put in more places has caused a lack of strategic planning, and they are calling for more control.
Schools digging into other avenues for funds
The LGA asked councils if cash provided by the Department for Education had met the full cost of providing school places between 2011/12 and 2016/17. Some 77 per cent of respondents said the money had not been enough. These councils got money from a range of sources including:
- 38 per cent borrowed money
- 67 per cent used money from developers
- 22 per cent took money from other building programmes
- 50 per cent used cash from other school capital programmes, such as school building maintenance.
Individual authority breakdowns include:
- The London Borough of Ealing has added £129 million to its Government funding for school places. This includes £114 million from prudential borrowing, £11 million of funding from other capital budgets and £4 million from partnership, Section 106 and revenue funding.
- The London Borough of Hillingdon has added £114 million to its government funding for school places: £92.9 million from prudential borrowing and £21.7 million from developers.
- The London Borough of Barnet has added £70.87 million to its Government funding for school places.
- One council has added £125 million to its Government funding for school places, with additional funding from capital receipts, prudential borrowing, developers, diverting capital from other capital programmes and from the revenue account.
- One local authority in the north has added £81.5 million to its Government funding for school places.
200,000 more places needed
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People’s Board, said in LGA’s press release: “Mums and dads expect their child to be able to get a place at a good local school and this research shows councils are delivering, but at a cost. Since the pressure on places first emerged, councils have been getting on with the job of creating more, and welcome though Government funding is, it is nothing like the full cost.”
“This research lays bare the financial impact on councils of providing school places, which stands at more than £1 billion over a five-year period. “The scale of this black hole is such that the cost of the creation of new school places cannot be met by council taxpayers. The underfunding of free school meals pales in comparison to this but both show that Government’s rhetoric must be matched by its chequebook, rather than leaving local authorities to pick up the tab.”
“The lack of school places is no longer confined to primary schools but is spreading to secondary schools, and across the country we estimate more than 200,000 places will be needed.”
EdChron.com has written to the LGA and the DfE for comments. The full report of the research will be out in September 2014.
Image Credit – Ealing, Wikipedia