School Places Crisis

  • The NUT believes that all children have the right to a place in a good local school; to be taught by a qualified teacher; in classes that are not overcrowded; and in buildings that are fit for purpose and provide all the facilities necessary for a good quality education.
  • Yet Britain is facing the worst shortage of school places for decades. This is resulting in overcrowded classrooms, primary schools expanding beyond an optimum size and children travelling further to school.
  • Government Statistics show that the nursery & primary school population has risen steadily since 2009 to reach 4.5 million in 2016. The rate of increase is forecast to slow in the next few years, due to falling birth rates. By 2020 there are projected to be 3.97 million children of primary school age attending state-funded schools, including special schools and alternative provision. The secondary school population rose to 2.76 million in 2016 and is projected to continue rising to reach 3.04 million by 2020, peaking at 3.33 million in 2025.1
  • Government policies have made it harder for local councils to keep pace with rising demand for school places. Some of the worst impact of this has been felt in the capital. London has been facing an increase in demand for school places for a number of years and this demand continues to grow. A combination of rising pupil populations, spiralling building costs and lack of available land is putting increasing pressure on London boroughs to provide places for pupils.
  • In 2015, London Councils published a report, The London Equation, setting out its latest analysis of the growing pressure on secondary school places and the scale of the funding shortfall to London boroughs.2  The report showed that between 2010/11 and 2014/15, London’s pupil population had increased by 112,000, representing 35 per cent of the overall national pupil growth. London’s local authorities, head teachers and school governors had worked together to expand existing schools and build new schools where necessary but a lack of adequate funding from government had meant that many London boroughs had had to use their own resources (including borrowing) in order to keep pace with demand. 3
  • Population changes are not a new phenomenon and local authorities, who are responsible for providing sufficient school places, have traditionally been able to plan to meet rising and falling demand. The significant factor in the current situation is that, since 2010, the Government has undermined local authorities’ legal powers to deliver new school places.
  • Local authorities have lost the power to plan and build new maintained schools, because the Government says that any new school must now be a free school.4
  • Since 2011, free schools have created chaos in school place planning and supply (see Edufact on Free Schools). According to evidence provided to the Education Select Committee, “35% of the first four waves of free schools were in districts with no forecast need and 52% were in districts with either no forecast need or only moderate need.”5
  • Furthermore, local authorities cannot direct an academy or free school to expand as they can in the case of maintained schools. Academies and free schools have brought in an irrational competitive marketplace for school places rather than the rational planned provision that local authorities were able to guarantee in the past.
  • In a YouGov Poll commissioned by London Councils in 2015, 78% of parents agreed that local authorities should have the ability to influence all schools in their area to find more school places or expand.6
  • The NUT believes that the solution to the school place crisis is to give local authorities back the legal powers they need to plan and provide enough school places in their local areas and for the Government to provide sufficient funding to enable them to do so. The Government must also take serious steps to address the growing

1 Department for Education, National pupil projections: future trends in pupil (July 2016). Available at:

2 London Councils, The London Equation calculating the shortfall in funding London’s schools (2015). Available at:

3 Ibid.

4 Section 37 and Schedule 11 of the Education Act 2011 meant new schools must be an academy or free school. In 2015, DfE published advice on what it calls the ‘Free School Presumption’ which means that all new academies should be categorised as ‘free schools’.

5 House of Commons Education Committee (January 2015)  ‘Academies and free schools. Fourth Report of Session 2014–15’ - p. 55

6 London Councils and YouGov, Parental Views on Education (September 2015). Available at:

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