Thursday 25 April 2013

Local authorities must be allowed to plan and build more community primary schools

This was my response to Boris Johnson's call for educationalists to drop their 'ideological'  opposition to free schools in order to solve the shortage of primary places crisis as reported in the Evening Standard this week. Johnson said, “There’s a lot of prejudice against free schools on the part of the education establishment and they need to lose it and need to build more.There’s a huge demographic crisis looming in London and we need to fund the schools. At the moment we’re worried there’s some kind of ideological foot dragging about free schools. They’ve got to blast ahead and make space."

It is truly shocking that 118,000 children will be without a school place by 2016 and Boris Johnson's solution of 'more free schools' will not answer the problem. Free school provision by its very nature is ad hoc, depending on a group coming forward often with unproven back of the envelope plans (just look at their websites)and there is no guarantee that they will be sited in areas of need.

The Coalition's insistence that any new schools should be academies or free schools means that local authorities cannot carefully plan the construction of new community schools across their borough ensuring that there is equal distribution and access.  The fragmentation of the school system under present government policies alongside the undermining, politically and financially, of local authorities means that LAs have the statutory responsibility to provide a school place for every child but not the powers to do so.

This is forcing them to adopt sticking plaster short-term solutions including bulge classes and expansions of present buildings which result in over-large schools, with in some cases more than 1,000 5-11 year olds in one building, loss of play space and cramped conditions. This worsens the quality of provision of all children order to cater for the additional numbers.

If we put children first, and not Michael Gove's ideology, we will restore a local authority's right to build new community schools with all the quality assurance provided by a properly planned and  funded, democratically accountable, local school system.

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