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Schools space crisis: free schools should only be built where needed, says LGA

The Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed that two thirds of primary schools could struggle to have enough space for their pupils by September 2016

According to the association, ballooning pupil numbers are resulting in some schools converting space, like libraries and music rooms into classrooms, while others are being forced to reduce playground space in favour of additional classrooms.

With a growing number of primary schools are now converting to academies and the government’s new ‘schools presumption’ also means councils can’t create new schools that are not academies or free schools. The LGA is calling on the government to address this by ensuring no new free schools are built in areas with a surplus of school places.

The calls come as the government announced the number of free schools has doubled since this time last year. There are currently 174 free schools across the UK. But just three quarters of the 71 new schools have opened in areas with a need for additional school places.

David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: ‘Councils across the country have been increasing places by expanding schools where possible through additional classes or new buildings. However, without enough resource to provide places we are seeing some schools having to take extreme measures including converting non-classroom space and reducing playground space. This seriously risks prioritising quantity of places at the expense of the quality of education we are providing.

He added: ‘The process of opening up much-needed schools is being impaired by a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and in some cases by the presumption in favour of free schools and academies’.

The analysis by the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, shows councils in Norfolk, Croydon, Newham, Hounslow, Bedford and Waltham Forest are worst affected, needing to increase their schools’ capacity by more than 25 per cent by September 2016.

Local government leaders have also criticised the funding methods used by the Department for Education since 2007, which they say has led to a ‘piecemeal approach to planning’.

Education secretary Michael Gove, who controversially binned the Labour government’s multibillion pound Building Schools for the Future programme in July 2010, said: ‘Free schools are now an integral part of the growing success story of state education in England’.

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