The National Audit Office has warned that England and Wales will have a shortfall of 250,000 school places by September 2014, unless a major building programme is undertaken.
Yet even a massive programme of installing temporary classrooms won’t solve the problem. Twenty per cent of primaries are already full to capacity. Some inner London councils have had to cope with a shortfall of 2,000+ school places by asking schools to take “bulge” classes this year. But bulges don’t disappear – schools with a bulge this year will have it all the way through with that age group.
Other large cities have been told they must find extra places for the expected influx of new migrants in the next year or so. The government refuses to acknowledge that tens or even hundreds of thousands of children new to the country pose any kind of problem. It won’t act to stem the tide of inward migration, nor accept the need to fund places for the children arriving.
Adding to the turmoil is the government’s insistence that any new schools must be offered first as either academies or “free” schools. This policy slows development and forces some children away from their natural catchment areas.
It's beginning to look a lot like education provision is now as focused on the interests of the employer as is government policy on immigration. Our children – born here or new arrivals – are going to bear the brunt of the government’s approach. ■