Warning over ‘critical’ shortage of primary schoolsOwen Gyles on August 9, 2010 | 1 Comment »
The number of children in such large classes is predicted to top 500,000 next month.
More young pupils are also likely to be educated in mobile classrooms and converted buildings such as church halls and community centres.
On Sunday, the Coalition pledged to divert millions of pounds from frozen secondary school building projects to create more spaces in infant classes.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the shortage of primary places was “critical” and insisted Labour had failed to listen to repeated warnings about the looming crisis.
Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: “Some schools will be in great difficulty. This shows a lack of forward planning by the last government. The children will be four, so they had four years’ warning.”
According to an official Government estimate, the number of children in English primary schools will rise to 3,960,000 from September. The pupil population will rise year-on-year over the next decade, it is suggested, with numbers peaking at more than 4.5m by 2018.
Councils including Barnet, Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Croydon, Manchester, Nottingham and Wandsworth are already preparing for the increase by creating extra places this September.
But an internal report submitted to Labour in February suggests the work would not be enough to ease the pressure, saying at least 60,000 more places are needed this autumn alone.
The document – from the Office of Government Commerce – said demand for places had been fuelled by the economic downturn. Many councils in the south-east have already reported a rise in the number of pupils being pulled out of private schools.
“We understand that there are currently a considerable number of local authorities claiming that they have been ‘caught out’ by recent changes in demographic patterns (partly due, it is said, to the economic recession) and seeking additional central funding for some 60,000 additional pupil places to address this issue,” the document said.
The report warned that the £300m provided by the government for primary school buildings last September was “far from adequate”.
The Coalition is now promising additional funding in future years to address the shortfall, although the extra money will not be available for this September. It is not yet known how much will be invested.
Prof Smithers told The Sunday Times that the number of pupils in classes of more than 30 was likely to top the 461,000 children in large lessons this year. It was “highly probable” that numbers would rise above 500,000, he said.