‘Real risk’ that pupils will be left without a school place

There is a “very real risk” that pupils in London will be unable to get a school place when the number of young people in the capital spikes in the next few years, councils have warned.

A report from London Councils, published today, says the capital’s pupil population is set to rise by 146,000 over the next five years, but the government is not providing enough funding to expand schools and set up new ones.

“Without sufficient funding there is a very real risk in London of not being able to secure a school place for every child, particularly given the complex and costly secondary school place expansions needed,” the report says.

More London schools “will reach full capacity” as demand for school places rises, meaning that negotiations about school expansion between councils and schools “will become increasingly challenging”, it warns.

The report is published on the day that prime minister David Cameron announces a new wave of 18 free schools, alongside a fresh commitment to set up 500 more over the next five years.

The London Councils report says free schools “are not always set up in areas of greatest need in London”.

It adds that a spike in pupil numbers at primary school, which has taken place over the past few years, is beginning to reach secondary schools.

“The expansion of secondary schools is more complex than primary schools as they lack the flexibility to add single multifunctional classrooms and often are on tight sites,” the report says.

“This will create significant challenges to build new school places to meet rising demand, requiring the status quo to change including how secondary school places are planned.”

Councils were given £5 billion to create school places between 2010 and 2015. But today’s report says this met just 59 per cent of the cost of providing school places during that period, forcing local authorities to make up the shortfall by borrowing money and diverting funds from their budgets for other services.

Councillor Peter John, leader of Southwark Council and executive member for children at London Councils, said: “At a time when budgets are under pressure across the board, boroughs cannot continue to subsidise the cost of school places in London.

“Time is running out for the government to fully support councils’ efforts to provide primary and secondary school places in the capital over the next five years.”

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