Long read: Addressing the school place shortage in east London
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 September 2017
Finding the perfect school for your child isn’t easy. When there is a shortfall of places in east London, it’s even harder.
Across the four boroughs of Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Havering, London Councils anticipates 5,479 primary places and 6,988 secondary places will need to be created by 2022/23.
And with a series of new housing developments set to increase the area’s population even further, having enough school places for the families that move in is vital.
Every council has a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient school places for all its children, but do not have the powers to open any new authority-run schools.
Over the last few years, councils have been authorising a number of school expansions at both primary and secondary level to create new places despite the restrictions.
This is something that Newham Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Cllr Rev Quintin Peppiatt, has called a “schools crisis”.
He said: “We like many other councils are doing all we can to meet the growing future demand for school places by expanding our primary and secondary schools.
“The government’s failure to give local authorities the powers or funding they need to open new schools or force academies to expand has set us on course for a schools crisis.”
Little Ilford School, in Manor Park, has been completely rebuilt over the past two years to create 150 new places and a unit for children with autism.
Earlier this year, Barking and Dagenham Council gave the green light to a £30m phased expansion of Robert Clack School of Science, which will see it grow from 10 forms of entry to 18, as well as adding a three-form primary school.
A consultation on expanding a number of Havering’s secondary schools finished in July, with the results pending.
Cllr Robert Benham, the borough’s cabinet member for children and learning, said that the number of primary age pupils in Havering is expected to rise by more than 4,000 in the next five years.
“To support this population increase, we have, and will continue to, expand existing popular and high-performing schools in the borough. So far, we have expanded a number of primary schools, whilst ensuring high, quality standards of education.
“We are also working with a number of free school proposers and the Department for Education to build new schools. It is paramount that our children receive the best education possible so we will continue to do everything we can to address this.”
In April, the Department for Education announced a new wave of free schools. The trust that operates Stratford’s School 21 will open two new schools in Newham, creating more than 2,400 places.
There will also be two new all-through special schools in Barking and Dagenham, catering for pupils with a variety of special educational needs and disabilities.
It is these places that have the biggest financial impact, with London Councils predicting they cost around three times more than the cost of creating a mainstream school place.
A spokesman for Barking and Dagenham council explained that the borough - whose shortfall of 2,624 secondary places is the third highest in London - has “responded positively” to the rising number of pupils and “provided a place for every child or young person who needs it”.
He added: “There is an investment strategy in place which articulates our demand over the next ten years and proposals to create sufficient places are published twice a year, covering primary, secondary and SEN. These new additional places have been created through expansion of existing schools or the creation of new places in conjunction with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).
“There are restrictions on councils creating new places however we continue to work closely with the ESFA to ensure sufficient places.”
Of the four boroughs, Redbridge has the smallest shortfall, with just 27 primary school places required.
A council spokeswoman said: “We currently have sufficient school places to meet demand and are planning to address the projected shortfall in places in the future.”