NUT research shows councils face a growing and excessive surplus of unnecessary secondary school places

Tim Lezard

NUT_logoThe NUT has accused Michael Gove of failing in his duty to ensure the provision of sufficient primary school places across the country.

The union’s claims are based on new research it has conducted which examines the location of mainstream free schools approved to open in the current school year or the forthcoming school year.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “Instead of local authorities being funded to address the primary place shortage that is gripping many parts of the country, some councils are instead facing a growing and excessive surplus of unnecessary secondary school places because the Secretary of State has approved new secondary free schools in local areas in which there is demonstrably no need.

“In pursuing his ideologically-driven, costly and wasteful free school programme from Westminster, the Education Secretary has failed to provide the support to local authorities that would enable them to provide new primary school places in areas of genuine need.  Michael Gove is failing in his duty to parents, pupils and the taxpayer.”

The research reveals that the Secretary of State has approved 28 secondary free schools and one primary free school to open in the current or forthcoming school year in 24 local authorities (LAs) in England where there is projected to be a more than 10% surplus of places in the phase provided by the free school by the year 2016/17 (2).  This means that 20% of the 145 mainstream free schools approved in Waves 2 and 3 of the free school programme are adding to significant excess capacity locally.

In the case of the 28 secondary schools adding to significant numbers of surplus places by 2016/17, the projected excess ranges from 10.5% in Warrington to 28.2% in Suffolk. In Suffolk, three secondary free schools – Beccles, Saxmundham and IES Breckland – opened in September 2012. The capital spending alone on these schools has so far totalled £3.67 million (3).

Furthermore, 13 of the local authority areas gaining new and excessive surplus secondary places as a result of 15 new secondary free schools opening are at the same time forecast to be hit by a shortage of primary places by 2016/17.

The NUT’s research reveals that:

•           Suffolk was projected to have a 28.2% surplus of secondary places by 2016/17 yet three secondary free schools which opened in September 2012 will now add to that surplus capacity. At the same time the County is projected to have a shortfall of primary places by 2016/17 of 1.9% yet no new provision of primary places has been approved. In an earlier round of free school approvals (Wave 1) the Stour Valley Community School, another secondary, opened in September 2011. The DfE has said that the total refurbishment development costs for this 540-place school total £4.98 million.

•           While funds are being channelled directly to open these unnecessary secondary free schools, delays to the priority school building programme, which replaced the axed Building Schools for the Future school capital programme, mean that the County Council has had to allocate £1.1 million from its own funds to keep open two school buildings which are in a serious state of disrepair.

•           Kingston Upon Hull has a surplus of secondary places that stands at 28.1% in the current school year, resulting in many of its secondary schools being seriously undersubscribed. The projected surplus is to set to remain high – at 27.9% by 2016/17 – by which date the local authority will also face a shortfall of primary provision of 1.4%. Yet a new 600-place secondary free school – The Boulevard Academy – is due to open in September 2013, further exacerbating the secondary surplus. Building contractors BAM have been awarded an £8 million contract to build the new school.

•                     In Central Bedfordshire, where a secondary free school – the Kimberley 16-19 STEM College – is due to open in September 2013, the secondary surplus is projected to be 24.1% by 2016/17. At the same time the local authority is set to have a 42.8% shortfall in its primary place provision by this date. The Barnfield Fernwood primary free school had been due to open in September but was cancelled earlier in the year.

•           Likewise, in Bedford, the local authority is projected to have a 38.2% shortfall in primary places by 2016/17 yet the Bedford Free School – a secondary that opened in September 2012 despite opposition from the local authority – will add to the projected 25.4% surplus in secondary place provision by 2016/17.

•           The one primary free school identified in the NUT’s research as adding to a more than 10% surplus of provision is the Barrow 1618 Church of England Free School. This new primary opened in September 2012 in Shropshire, where the surplus of primary places is projected to stand at 11.5% by 2016/17.



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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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