COMMONS

MPs comment on capital funding for new school places report

15 March 2013

Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, comments on a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on the Department for Education: capital funding for new school places

Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP said:

"Access to a school place is a right for every child, yet in some parts of the country there are simply not enough school places. Demand is likely to rise between 2012 and 2014/15 by 240,000 in the primary sector, 37% of this in London. However, the overall number of primary places has increased by only 81,500 between 2010 and 2012, suggesting there is a long way to go.

"The national surplus of school places masks the fact that there are not enough new places in the right areas. By May last year 20% of primary schools were full or over capacity and, with demand projected to continue growing beyond 2014, provision must be stepped up so that every child can enjoy the high quality start to which they are entitled.

"Gradual improvements in the Department for Education’s data collection have been too pedestrian given the scale of the challenge. Funding decisions have been based on incomplete information and still today we can’t be sure that money is following need.

"The Department has chopped and changed its approach to funding, using a staggering four different methods in the last five years. I find it hard to see how uncertainty over future funding levels can do anything but hinder local authorities’ ability to plan, putting strain on already stretched resources.

"The Department needs to be clearer about its funding plans and better communicate its expectations to local authorities.

The Department has also lacked information about the number of school places local authorities are providing. This absence of oversight undermines the Department’s ability to ensure value for taxpayers’ money. Given that the Department aims to give parents “the choice of a good local school” for their children, it is extraordinary that it doesn’t have any meaningful way to assess if it is actually achieving this.

"The Department has left it until the eleventh hour to start getting a grip of its data. It now needs to ensure the extra funds it is providing lead to the timely provision of school places where they are most needed. Families should not be penalised for living in areas of higher demand.

"The Department needs the right information to know that local authorities are using funds effectively and to challenge them if they are not."

Further information

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