Academies should expand where required to meet demand for school places, or councils must be given the powers back to open new maintained schools, say council leaders.
The Local Government Association (LGA) warn that the legal duty of councils to ensure every child has access to a school place would be made undeliverable otherwise.
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Councillor Roy Perry, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place available to them but find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to ensure schools, including academies, expand. Finding suitable sponsors with the capacity to take on the running of a successful new school is also proving a challenge.
“Creating an extra 300,000 primary places is a demonstrable record that councils will do everything they can to rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place, but all schools must play their part too. If they are not willing to expand, then powers to create new schools should be returned to local authorities themselves if they are unable to secure high quality free school sponsors in their communities.”
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, is calling on government to ensure councils remain at the heart of school place planning.
As parents rushed to apply for their child’s primary school place by midnight last Friday, councils fear that, without academies agreeing to increase capacity, the ability to provide enough school places could be put at risk.
There is also concern that councils may struggle to find free school sponsors to open schools in time within their areas as the programme develops.
Uniquely situated with the knowledge of what their local areas need, councils have managed to create more than 300,000 extra primary school places over recent years through increasing class sizes, converting non-classroom space and diverting money from vital school repair programmes.
As well as being given powers to build schools themselves if necessary, the LGA believes that funding allocations should be provided in five-year blocks to allow councils to work with local schools to financially plan long-term.
A previous LGA survey revealed that councils had been forced to divert over £1 billion of their own budges to create more places and over the next decade, estimated that £12 billion would be needed to create a predicted 880,000 extra places that would be required.