Nine in 10 people believe councils should be given powers to create and maintain new schools, a poll has shown.
A survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals 89 per cent of people in England believe the power to build and maintain new schools should be returned to councils.
It follows LGA analysis of school capacity data, which last month showed the squeeze on primary school places will soon begin to affect secondary schools.
Last Wednesday, parents received confirmation of their child’s primary school place.
The LGA has previously called for powers to create schools to be returned to councils, as it is they who are legally responsible for making sure there are enough school places locally. Last academic year, councils created 90,000 primary school places but 130,000 are still needed. Councils have used a range of measures to create places, usually by expanding existing schools. This including using temporary buildings, adding ‘bulge’ classes and converting existing non-classroom space such as IT suites and music rooms to classrooms.
Since the passing of the Academies Act 2010, the final decisions around choosing new school providers, even when it is the council’s legal duty to open a school, are out of councils’ hands.
This means the final decisions about building new schools in England now rest with the Secretary of State for Education in Whitehall and control of land and buildings for a new school transfers to an academy trust or Government-appointed sponsor when it opens. The school is directly accountable to the Secretary of State and councils have no powers to intervene if its performance declines. Such a school is directly funded by the Education Funding Agency, a Government quango.
Under the Act, all new schools have to be academies or free schools. Councils have no say in where free schools are placed and academies cannot be compelled by councils to expand to take more pupils.
The LGA said:
“Even with councils’ hard work creating 90,000 primary places last year, there is still a dire need for more to be created.
“This poll result reflects the trust residents have in councils. Councils have a duty to ensure there is a school place for every child and parents should know they will do everything in their power to ensure there is no child without a place.
“The challenge for local authorities is making sure places are created on time and in the right places, in a climate where some of the decision-making about new school places is now in the hands of the Government.
“Although some school places have been created by free schools, these have not always been in line with demand locally. Additionally, some applications have stalled, leading to uncertainty for mums and dads.
“By returning the power to create schools to councils, government could ensure school places for children of all ages can be delivered according to local demand, and in line with the local needs of parents and young people.”