Are We Short of School Places, or Just Counting Them Badly?

Posted: November 6, 2017

The country is facing a massive shortage of school places, for years we have been building on to the side of our primary schools to add more places. The bulge in pupils is now approaching the secondary school sector with many already expanding, the real stress point in secondary schools will be reached within three years. The government has spent many billions addressing this problem and will continue to spend billions for some time.

Figuring out how many places we need is a simple equation, you count the number of children that need educating and you count the number of school places. One subtracted from the other will show a surplus or deficit, so ‘equation’ may be too big an expression, or is it?

How Many Children Need Educating?

Demographers are all very clever people and have complex and unintelligible algorithms to work out the number of children needing an education. Their estimates can vary widely, how many children do a young couple on a new housing estate generate? How many families with children are moving out of the cities? Do you count the children when the first planning application for housing is submitted, do you wait for diggers on the ground, or possibly count midwives on their bikes with baskets? Let’s not forget immigration and the fast moving and complex education conundrums that generates. It’s fair to say that the first half of our ‘equation’ might be a bit of a complex and moving target.

How Many School Places Are There?

This should be easier to work out, the buildings are built, the children are attending and admissions policies clearly state the number of places on offer for each school. Well, since the inception of academies in to our school system the procedures for measuring the pupil capacity of schools has become disjointed and disparate. Local authorities are the commissioners of school places, but schools are making changes to their capacity that the authority has no knowledge of and no mechanism or authority to track. Schools are not updating their Net Capacity calculations as it costs money to do and their budgets are already stretched. Add to this the fact that the standard capacity measure is ten years old and in no way matches the current curriculum or school design guidelines and I think you’ll see that the second half of our ‘equation’ is also very unclear.

Are We Short of School Places, or Just Counting Them Badly?

I’m no mathematician, but I’m sure that if you subtract a randomish number from a randomish number you’ll get a randomish answer. Would you personally spend billions for years on end to solve a problem that is quantified to the same degree of accuracy that you use when deciding if you have room for another mince pie on Christmas Day?



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