TEACHING unions yesterday condemned the Tory-led coalition government’s free-school policy, as more than half a million families were discovering which primary schools their children will attend, amid a growing places squeeze.
There are wide variations nationwide, with up to one in six missing out on their first choice of school in some areas, while in other areas, almost all got their number one preference.
NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: ‘We have a balkanised system with authorities, academies and central government taking decisions in isolation.’
He added: ‘There is a desperate need for long-term planning that spans all sectors. With the massive increase in pupil numbers and over-stretched budgets, we cannot afford inefficiency and conflict.’
NUT General Secretary Christine Blower said: ‘Today’s news that 20,000 children are being denied a place at any of their preferred schools is one more piece of evidence that the government has failed to match pupil demand to an adequate supply of places.
‘This situation could have been avoided by allowing councils to build and run schools in areas where additional school places are needed.
‘Instead, the government has poured money and resources into the wasteful and indulgent free schools programme.
‘Overall the government allocated £1.7bn of capital funding for free schools up to 2014-15 and yet, according to evidence provided to the education select committee “35% of the first four waves of free schools were in districts with no forecast need and 52% were in districts with either no forecast need or only moderate need”.
‘The coalition’s obsession with free schools and its attempts to run 25,000 schools from Whitehall has done little to counter the growing school places crisis.’
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘The coalition government has spent £1.5 billion on a wasteful free school programme in which only 75% of places have been filled. At the same time, too many existing primary schools are bursting at the seams, with dining halls and libraries being turned into “emergency classrooms”.
‘Local Authorities are responsible for providing sufficient school places but have been prevented by law from building and running new schools.’
She concluded: ‘We need to move to a system where Local Authorities can build and run schools in order that they can fulfil their legal duty to ensure that every child has a place in a safe classroom, with a qualified teacher.’