Today the EPI publishes a report into the government’s flagship Free Schools programme. Commenting on the report, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “At least 200,000 more primary school places and 80,000 more secondary school places are needed in the next five years. The Local Government Association puts the cost of creating all the necessary places over the next decade at £12 billion.
“The estimated cost of the free school programme so far is over £10bn. By the end of the last academic year only 347 free schools had opened. Of course, many of these schools will be offering an outstanding teaching and learning experience for their students, but that’s not really the point.
“The current approach to planning and providing enough school places is incoherent, expensive and inefficient. At present local authorities, academies and central government are all taking decisions in isolation and the free schools programme is little more than an expensive free for all. Ultimately whether or not you have access to a good school place is still down to luck, and that’s a poor reflection on the government’s ability to deliver a stable system for teachers to work in and pupils to learn in.
“Local planning of school places across maintained, academy and free schools is necessary. Since 2011, the powers of local authorities in planning school places have been significantly reduced without an alternative system to take their place. We need a local agency able to commission both new schools and new places in all sectors – doing it little by little from a desk in Whitehall is not the way forward.
“With the massive increase in pupil numbers and school budgets at breaking point, we cannot afford inefficiency and conflict. The government’s approach makes this problem worse. Until some agency at the local or regional level has the information and the authority to prioritise school places where they are most needed, parents and children will always be unsure that the system will give them what they want.”
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