Families across England are preparing themselves for disappointment as the country prepares for national offer day on Tuesday. This day determines which secondary school children in their final year of primary education will attend for the upcoming academic year. It is expected that many parents will be disappointed as demand for places continues to rise. An estimated 84,000 families failed to secure their first choice of secondary school last year, and one in six secondary schools are already at or over capacity. The Labour Party have released fresh analysis that suggests that over 300,000 additional secondary school places will be required by 2020. Despite government efforts to increase the number of free schools that are available, many experts suggest that it is not solving the problem and is creating a crisis in school places. Areas such as London and Birmingham are expected to be the most severely hit. However, councils lack powers to implement new schools, and the Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for academies to be made to expand should councils be unable to open new schools or provide sufficient places.
The Shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, has criticised the government’s current approach to free schools, calling instead for the local planning of school places to be reinstated. This suggestion was backed by the LGA. Should there not be enough places for children, their education can be severely impacted, but too many places also brings problem when funding is spread too thinly. The council member for Birmingham children’s services, Brigid Jones, has described the current system as “a mess”, suggesting that too much public money is presently being wasted.
Free schools are contributing to an increase in academic standards across the UK, as they are more likely to receive an outstanding rating from Ofsted than state schools. Despite rising pupil numbers, the Department for Education (DfE) has accused the LGA of scaremongering, stating that 95% of parents were offered places for their children at one of their preferred choices schools last year. The DfE went on to say that councils have "three and a half years" of certainty, as funding is allocated in advance of places being needed. However, some families remain nervous about the waiting process. Last year, London had the lowest number of applicants receiving offers for their first choice of school, which saw just 68.9% being offered their top selection. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, claims the government’s approach is inadequate and Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, believes that new schools need to be funded by local authorities in order to prevent further chaos.