Government can’t keep blaming Labour for school place shortages

Janet Downs's picture
“Migrant influx fuels new crisis in schools: Now secondary schools face 'timebomb' shortage of places, reveals secret report.”

Daily Mail 6 September 2013

The Mail cites a “leaked government document” that forecasts a 35,000 shortfall in secondary places by 2015. It claims Labour did nothing about this despite knowing about in May 2007.

But Labour did do something – it allocated £400m a year from 2007/8 to 2010/11 to local authorities with shortage hotspots (see here).

The Government says it’s provided £5b for funding for new places. The National Audit Office (NAO) breaks this down as follows:

1 £3.2b allocated initially for period up to 2014/15

2 Savings from other programmes increased this to £4.3 billion.

3 A further £982 million capital funding was announced in December 2012. The DfE has invited bids from LAs for this.

However, the Government’s 2010 Spending Review had reduced capital funding for schools by 60%.

The NAO found when the Government cancelled Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and the Primary Capital Programme it did not estimate what effect this would have on the number of available places.

The NAO also criticized aspects of the free school programme. The need for primary places is more acute but the majority of places in first- and second-wave free schools were in secondary schools. But this wasn’t the worst criticism. The NAO wrote: the DfE “currently lacks a full understanding of the impact its spending is having on the number of places created, and how funding is being used”.

The Local Government Association has just released a further warning about school place shortages and has recommended a ban on free schools in areas with surpluses.

But Michael Gove told the Mail:

“Labour ‘were warned repeatedly that they hadn’t done enough to plan for a growing population – and once more it’s been left to the Coalition government to clean up the mess’. Labour cut 200,000 primary places, slashed the amount spent on areas of population growth, and let immigration soar – and all this in the middle of a baby boom.’”

The reduction in primary places under Labour was because the problem was one of oversupply (NAO). And there is still a national oversupply of primary places (NAO) - the problem is shortage hotspots. Labour addressed this with its £400m allocation per year from 2007/8.

The rise in immigration was due in part to a greater influx of EU citizens from the countries that joined the EU in 2004. Such citizens have the right to live and work here just as British citizens have the right to live and work in EU countries. And the “baby boom” wasn’t just fuelled by immigration but by changes in welfare benefits and the number of women in their 30s who had delayed childbirth and were now catching up (NAO).

But Gove’s rhetoric hides these facts:

1 The Government cut capital spending for schools in 2010.

2 Gove didn’t consider how cutting BSF would affect school place supply.

3 Gove has allowed free schools to set up where there’s no need.

4 Gove has diverted money to his pet projects (£1b overspend on the academies programme; £1.7b allocated to free schools).

5 Gove was Shadow Education Secretary from July 2007. If Labour knew about shortage hotspots in 2007, then Gove must have known also.

Gove has been Education Secretary for over three years – he can’t keep blaming the last Government for something that his actions have made worse.

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