Lea Marshes

School's out   

The school in Oliver Road, Leyton, being demolished.
At a recent Community Council meeting councillors seemed unsure of why there is a shortage of Primary School places. The following summarises the reasons and the concerns. Adrian Stannard


The governing body of The Woodside School, of which I am chair, has been aware for more than two years that a crisis was developing, or had already developed. In the spring last year, we sent the following request to the Schools Forum:

"From: The Governing Body, The Woodside School

In light of the pressure on primary school places in Waltham Forest, the growing number of temporary classes and the apparent lack of funding to provide the 20 new permanent forms of entry needed by 2012, this governing body is asking the Schools Forum to discuss the issue at its next meeting (May 13) and consider ways in which it can help the local authority to press for Government funding."

In response, a report was prepared for Forum by Graham Moss, Strategic Development Consultant, and two of his colleagues. It is well worth reading the full report, but in summary, it highlighted that:

** The birth rate has been rising steadily since 2001 and continues to do so and the primary school intake is also boosted by arrivals from other parts of the country and abroad

** Predictions are for a 21.9 per cent rise in the primary school roll by January 2019

** At that stage, the Local Authority needed to make provision for an extra 37 reception classes over the following three years

** Some of these are in permanent expansions of forms of entry by 2013 (Edinburgh, Willow Brook, St Saviour's, Wellington, George Mitchell and Cann Hall) - the rest in temporary reception classes in mobiles across a wide number of schools

** There is insufficient capital to accommodate all pupils at primary level in permanent buildings

** Quote: "Without additional capital funding, at least 60 per cent of the additional primary pupils will need to be accommodated in temporary accommodation spread over a large number of schools. At its peak, this means some 10 per cent of the primary school population will be in temporary accommodation".

The report was discussed at Forum but, much to my surprise, Chris Kiernan arrived at the meeting in its dying minutes and said that it would not be wise for the Forum to visit the Secretary of State to discuss the situation as it would "irritate Ministers". The discussion then ended without any real conclusion.

Latest developments

** Currently, all primary schools have waiting lists for reception classes and are full in Years 1 and 2

** In 2009, all schools were oversubscribed even with the addition of an extra six forms of entry

** Three new temporary mobile forms of entry opened this month, bringing the total to 25 (at Wellington, Stoneydown Park and Roger Ascham) to cope with the unprecedented number of late applications (in November there were 129 children across the borough without an offer of a reception place)

** Between 2011 and 2013, it is estimated that primary schools will need another 48 classes)

** Each double mobile classroom costs roughly £500,000

** The housing target for the borough has increased from 665 units completed per year to 760 from 2011 to 2021.

This is an ongoing and growing crisis and I am perpetually astonished that there has not been a major debate on the subject within the council.

It seems to me that those at the top have been amazingly complacent about the borough's ability to cope effectively with the situation.

Last year, following the issuing by London Councils of its Do the Maths report (Q and A summary below) , Ed Balls said that £200million would be distributed to authorities in need. The division of that amount was due to be announced in the autumn, but we have heard nothing about it - whether because Waltham Forest was unsuccessful in its application for a share or because the money is not forthcoming I do not know.

Pat Stannard


How many pupils don't have a reception place in London?

For the current financial year (ending March 2010) just over 2,250 children in London will be without a reception place. This shortfall is expected to increase to over 5,000 children by the end of the current spending review period (March 2011).

Based on current projections, London faces shortfalls of more than 18,300 in total by 2014.

Twenty five of the capital's 33 local authorities are experiencing capacity problems, or expect to experience them within 2-3 years.

In the authorities reporting pressures, the majority need between seven and 13 additional new forms to accommodate demand. However one borough forecasted a need for a staggering 25 additional classes.

Does this mean that over 2,000 pupils are missing out on attending primary school?

No. The affected boroughs have put in place arrangements to ensure that pupils are able to attend primary schools in the current year.

These include setting up temporary classrooms and, in some cases, expanding class sizes to take more than 30 pupils. These classes have additional staffing resources to ensure that no child is penalised by this situation.

Boroughs are angry that they have been forced into this position and believe that the government needs to provide a guarantee to every child that they will be educated in a classroom of a suitable standard.

Why are temporary classrooms and expanded classes a problem?

Temporary classrooms are not suitable for longer-term increases in demand for primary school places and they result in valuable investment being wasted on a temporary 'solution'.

Classes with extra pupils and the use of temporary classrooms both significantly obscure the full impact of the pressures that councils in London face. They also create additional pressures resulting from the large number of children in the school who need to share facilities designed for a smaller number of pupils, such as playgrounds and dining halls.

Without extra funding London boroughs will be forced to increase the number of temporary classrooms at the very time that the government is pushing for a reduction in their use as well as improvements to the condition permanent primary classrooms.

What are the reasons behind the shortfall?

Demand for primary school places in the capital has risen sharply and unexpectedly. This is principally caused by the growth in London's birth rate, which has risen by 20.5 per cent since 2001/02 - the fastest rate of growth of any English region.

Several other factors have combined to exacerbate the situation.

** The economic downturn - this has meant that fewer parents are opting to place their children in independent schools, which increases pressure on the state sector. The downturn in the property market means that fewer families are moving to areas outside the capital.

** Changing London housing market - has resulted in a significant increase in children living in 1 and 2 bedroom properties, thereby increasing the overall number of young children in many areas.

** Improvements in education - the improvements of the quality of state primary schools have led to more local parents requesting places. Some areas with particularly high performing schools have seen inward migration from families with school-age children.

** More locally born children requesting a place in local schools - there has been a rise in the number of locally born children who then go onto request a place at a local primary school. This ratio, known as the retention rate, has risen in many London boroughs - with at least one borough reporting a rise in its retention rate from 85 per cent to 95 per cent.

** Neighbouring capacity problems - some boroughs have seen an increase in applications from families based in neighbouring boroughs also experiencing capacity issues.

Why haven't boroughs expanded schools to cope sufficiently with demand?

Because the sharp increase in demand has overwhelmed the funding mechanism used to build new schools and classrooms.

These sorts of projects are paid for through capital funding (grants from central government) or supported borrowing (councils borrow funds and the government provides revenue to cover some of the costs of interest and repayments).

The increase in demand for primary school places has been much greater than expected, and the government's safety valve mechanism - designed to tackle this type of issue - has not resolved the problems because it is too inflexible and doesn't provide enough funding.

Does the government have a solution?

The government has written to boroughs to allow them to use capital funding earlier than planned in the current spending round - this is known as accelerated capital funding.

However this is not a long-term sustainable solution as it does not provide additional funding, and therefore only delays the impact of funding shortfall.

Can't the boroughs borrow funding using supported borrowing?

Boroughs are allowed to borrow so they can expand schools, but in reality councils in London are unable to increase borrowing because they are only receiving the bare minimum increases in government formula grant.

In 2006/7 arbitrary changes to the funding formulae 'statistically predicted' a fall in social services demand in London. However there has been no such fall in demand in the capital - if anything, demand for social services is likely to increase as a result of the economic downturn.

This funding shortfall without a corresponding dip in demand for services means that there is little money left to cover interest and repayments on borrowing.

It would also not be prudent for councils to borrow more money at a time when overall funding for London is decreasing.

How much more funding is needed?

Some boroughs have been able to divert available capital funding streams to expand schools where possible. However, this has meant diverting capital funding from much-needed school-modernisation projects. Clearly this is not a sustainable solution.

While the 25 affected authorities have all put in place measures to deal with this issue in the short-term, £740 million is still needed to increase classroom capacity over the next few years.

This figure includes the cost of building new classrooms and new schools for children who are currently without places and the need to provide places for additional pupils who will reach school age in the next decade.

£260 million is needed now to ensure councils can deal with the 5,000 five year-olds who could be without a reception place in the current spending review period (up to March 2011).

What does London Councils want to see happen?

The government needs to ensure that councils have enough capital funding to be able to provide a school place guarantee to every child of primary school age. Children from every region should expect this minimum guarantee.

Where there is a serious mismatch between high demand and capacity, particularly within a single region, London Councils believes the government has a duty to provide an emergency capital grant to cover the cost of providing additional classrooms. We believe that the problems which London currently faces are serious enough to merit this additional funding.

How can we stop this situation occurring again?

The government should investigate longer-term solutions to the mismatch between (i) the levels of capital grant and supported borrowing and (ii) the actual costs of school expansion.

One potential solution would be to fund all school expansion through a capital grant based on the reasonable costs of expansion. Without a longer-term solution, the problem of too many children and too few reception places will not go away.

The government also needs to look at the impact of the recession on the capital's property market, which has had unforeseen consequences for essential capital projects. Councils often plug gaps in capital by using income generated from the sale of land for development or property, which is known as capital receipts.

The fall in market values means that developers are offering London authorities a fraction of the assumed value of new sites. Because councils have a duty to their residents to maximise income to benefit their local communities, it would not be prudent of them to dispose of assets when values are so low. This has created a shortage of capital receipts to shore up school building.

London Councils proposes that the government offers authorities interest free capital loans to be repaid when the property market recovers. This would ensure that essential capital projects, such as school building and expansion, are not compromised by the current difficulty in generating capital receipts.

Despite the crisis in education speculators still want to build more housing in the borough.
Essex Wharf, currently 144 units planned.
Enormous numbers of dwellings proposed in
Northern Olympic Fringe Masterplan
Consultation Draft Report July 2009
Clancy Docwra site for development?