Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Warning of primary places crisis

classroom
The problem is mainly an urban one

Thousands of four and five-year-olds in England could be without a primary school place over the next few years, research suggests.

A rise in the birth rate, migration and a drop in those leaving London could leave 12,000 without places between now and 2014, says Lib Dem MP Edward Davey.

Other areas also face problems. The government says local councils are responsible for provision.

In Birmingham, there are plans for more than 1,400 new primary places.

A new primary school is planned and five schools will be enlarged.

In Bristol, about 300 four-year-olds are facing the prospect of being bussed across the city, as they are unable to get into a school close to their home. The council is considering opening extra reception classes.

Mr Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton in south-west London, said in a Commons debate on the issue that local authorities had seen an "unexpected" rise in the birth rate and were struggling to provide enough school places for young children.

"It is no exaggeration to say that primary education in London faces a crisis - if it is not already in one - with a huge increase in the number of young children needing primary school places that simply do not yet exist," he said.

Class sizes

Research from the London Councils campaign group suggests there could be nearly 12,000 five-year-olds without places over the next six years in London and a further 15,000 being taught in temporary classrooms.

Mr Davey told MPs: "London Councils tells me that 25 out the 33 boroughs are facing capacity and capital funding problems at primary level - 17 outer-London boroughs and eight inner boroughs have reported problems."

Families are not asking for the earth
Ed Davey MP, Liberal Democrats

He said Enfield and Merton predicted that more than 3,000 reception-aged children would be taught in temporary classrooms between now and 2014.

Kingston estimated it would need 13 new entry classes by 2014.

Across London, he said, councils were saying they would need between seven and 19 new classes.

The government needed to intervene and put more money into funding school places, Mr Davey said, or it would be forced to break its promise of keeping infant class sizes to 30 children or fewer.

"When banks get bail-outs while schools get temporary classrooms and no revenue support, parents understandably get angry," he said.

"Families in Kingston and across London are not asking for the earth. They want a place in a quality local primary school.

"They do not want to return to the large class sizes that we witnessed under the Conservative government, when class sizes in Kingston were some of the largest in the country."

Mr Davey said the birth rate in London was rising faster than in the rest of England. Since 2001-02, London's birth rate had risen 20.5% compared with 16.8% in England as a whole.

Trends

The government insists local councils should not be facing unexpected rises in the birth rate, because information is available from health authorities.

Schools minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry told the Commons: "Local authorities also use other factors and other methods to predict mobility. As was said, some local authorities are better than others at using the information at their disposal."

But she said the government was reviewing emerging pupil number trends to inform the next spending review.

Later, Schools Minister Jim Knight said funding for schools for the next three years had been agreed based on pupil projections by local councils but the government would look at the research by the London Councils group.



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