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Local education authorities have made good progress in reducing the number of unfilled places and have thereby free...
Local education authorities have made good progress in reducing the number of unfilled places and have thereby freed up significant sums for improving the quality of education in their schools, says the Audit Commission.

The commission has monitored the work of LEAs in following up its 1996 report, Trading places - the supply and allocation of school places. It has found that 75 per cent of LEAs have made good progress in removing unfilled places in secondary schools, and 45 per cent have removed unfilled places in primary schools.

It surveyed 135 English LEAs for its update on the studyand found that more than 46,000 surplus places in primary schools and 128,000 in secondary schools had gone. The result is that the money - roughly£50m - that was previously spent on servicing surplus places, for example, in terms of heating and lighting, is freed up to be spent on pupils and their education.

LEAs have also reduced the level of overcrowding that there was in some primary schools (schools with more pupils than the calculated capacity of the school).

But although the news is good, the Commission warns that there are still areas that need action.

The level of overcrowding in secondary schools has increased in 63 per cent of LEAs. This does not appear to be directly linked to the reduction in surplus places, as the majority of LEAs that reduced surplus achieved this without significantly increasing overcrowding. The level of appeals on secondary school admissions is also increasing.1

Also needing to take action are the 35 per cent of LEAs which continue to have high levels of unfilled primary school places, and the 24 per cent which have high levels of unfilled secondary school places.

Andrew Foster, the commission's controller, said:

'The progress that LEAs have made is very encouraging. There is now£50m extra funding that can be spent educating children, rather than maintaining and heating underused buildings. It is important that LEAs don't lose the momentum - the Commission can help them to find out how they compare to similar LEAs and learn from the best of them. Planning for the future remains key'.


The Audit Commission and Ofsted jointly inspect LEAs and look in detail at how they are planning places, both to promote efficient use of public services, and also as a lever to improve educational quality. Later this year there will be a report detailing the best practice seen across all 150 English LEAs.

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