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Local authorities need more power to allocate funding and deliver schools where they are needed!!

In the latest Procure Partnership Frameworks thought leadership blog, Robbie Blackhurst, Procure Partnerships Framework Director discusses the why we need to build more secondary schools to ensure all children are guaranteed the school place they are entitled to.

Secondary Schools in Crisis: The Need to Deliver More Secondary Schools in the North West

Across the UK, local authorities are facing significant challenges as the number of children requiring a secondary school education place is beginning to out weight the number of places available. Government statistics show that the nursery and primary school population has risen steadily since 2009, and as these children get ready to enter the secondary system many risk not securing a place at their local secondary school.

Every part of the UK needs to build more schools to meet the rising demand for places.

In recent years, political attention has been focused on the significant changes and challenges that the UK economy is facing as a result of the EU referendum and Brexit. Whilst the UK renegotiates its place within Europe, many other critical issues which have desperately needed political attention have dropped down the agenda. The current crisis in secondary school places has been developing over the last 10 years, but it is now that urgent action is required to prevent negative consequences for the generation of children moving up from primary education and into secondary school.

Whilst some areas of the UK are seeing more impact than others, it has been acknowledged that every part of the UK needs to build more schools to meet the rising demand for places. It is hardly surprising that local authorities are feeling the strain! The nursery and primary school population reached 4.8 million in 2018 and whilst it is anticipated that this figure will plateau beyond 2020/21, the secondary school population is projected to continue increasing until around 2025, where it is estimated to reach almost 3.75m.1

Local authorities have made good progress in increasing the number of primary schools over the last couple of years, but the shift in demand has now changed and the focus must now move to providing more secondary facilities. Over the next two years there will be 313,164 additional secondary places required in the England, which equates to 10,438 new classrooms or 298 new secondary schools. On average, each region in England will need to build 1,100 new secondary school classrooms to meet the projected demand.

In the North West alone, 1,247 new secondary school classrooms will be required.

Manchester City Council is faced with the second most substantial projected increase in pupil numbers and will need to provide more than 12,000 extra secondary school places by 2021/22. To exacerbate the situation further, schools in the North West have been hit hard by government underfunding and cuts to budgets. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) report that the 23 local authorities in the region face a collective loss of funding of almost £200m by 2020.

The pressure to provide increasing secondary places, alongside the existing strain of government cuts, has led organisations such as the National Education Union to declare that the UK is facing the worst shortage of school places it has seen for decades.

In March 2019, record numbers of children missed out on their first choice of secondary school.

It is a fundamental right for children in the UK to be taught in a good quality, local school, by a qualified teacher. This should be delivered in classes that are not overcrowded and in buildings that are fit for purpose, with all the necessary facilities and equipment essential for successful teaching.

In March 2019, record numbers of children missed out on their first choice of secondary school and appeals against secondary school offers have doubled in six years. How will the current chronic lack of secondary school places effect pupils and the quality of their education?

Class sizes will inevitability become larger and as such, the teacher student ratio will be stretched beyond the optimum size. School budgets will have to stretch even further, something many head teachers say would be impossible to bear. Children who don’t secure a place at their local school will have to travel further, putting additional pressure on family life. These critical factors may well have an overall detrimental effect on the quality of education available, which will have lasting implications as children progress through the education system, and beyond.

Local authorities need more power to allocate funding and deliver schools where they are needed.

Population changes are inevitable and something that local authorities, who are ultimately responsible for ensuring sufficient school places, have historically been able to plan to for. However, in recent years central government has limited local authority power to plan and build new maintained schools as the need and demand arises.

England has a centralised system and decisions over education funding are made directly by the government. Devolution of power to regions and cities could provide a huge opportunity to improve the way school estates are managed, allowing for greater local influence in the allocation of funding to meet the specific local demand. This would give local authorities the legal powers required to plan and provide enough school places in their local areas.

The construction industry needs to think creatively to support local authorities.

In order for local authorities to deliver new schools and school expansion projects within the necessary timescales, the construction industry needs to provide support and utilise new technologies to offer efficiencies and value for money. Whilst modern methods of construction, such as off-site fabrication, are becoming increasingly common, they are not being used nearly enough to realise the full potential they could bring to local authorities. It is clear that the industry needs to think creatively to deliver the scale of new facilities required. We must work collaboratively with the project team to focus on solutions which will not only provide high-quality, modern spaces for teaching and learning, but will also offer local authorities cost certainty, value for money and timely delivery.

Procurement Frameworks, such as the Procure Partnerships Framework, provide an excellent way for local authorities to quickly and efficiently procure high-quality and experienced contractors, and provides the structured approach necessary to navigate the design process and achieve the optimum construction solution.

The critical issue of the shortage of secondary school places is only likely to be exacerbated in the coming years and it is the joint responsibility of the construction industry to support local authorities to develop solutions. Good schools are the bedrock of our society and every child deserves the opportunity of a high quality, local education.