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Call for new school places powers as 'emergency' looms

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Councils must be given more powers over school provision, including the ability to direct free schools and academies to expand to meet a surge in demand for places, the Local Government Association has said.

LGA projections based on Department for Education figures found more than half of councils will face a shortfall in secondary school places by 2023-24 which could lead to 134,000 children missing out on school places. The research revealed 13 councils will face a shortfall next year, rising to 25 in 2020-21.

The LGA said the impending school places “emergency” will be caused by a “bulge” in demand for primary school places, which has resulted in councils creating an extra 600,000 places since 2010. That is now starting to have an impact on secondary schools.

Despite retaining statutory responsibility for ensuring school places are available, councils are limited in what they can do to increase provision as there is currently a legal requirement for all new schools to be free schools or academies.

This is compounded by the fact that two-thirds of existing schools are now academies, which local authorities have no powers to direct to expand.

Anntoinette Bramble (Con), chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said no family should face uncertainty over securing school places and councils must be given the powers to open new maintained schools to address this.

“As a starting point [councils] should be allowed to open new maintained schools and direct academies to expand,” she said. “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.”

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