Tory MPs call for U-turn on education as school places squeeze looms

The Observer is reporting that leading Tories are “demanding change” to education policy amid predictions that councils in Conservative-run areas will soon be unable to provide school places for all the children in their areas.

The growing concerns of Tory MPs and council leaders are being relayed to ministers by the Conservative-led Local Government Association, which is calling on the government to hand back powers to councils so that they can expand schools or open new ones. The alternative, it says, will be a crisis of provision across the country.

Such a move would require a major U-turn in government policy…

Last week, however, Cheryl Gillan, the MP for Chesham and Amersham, whose constituency is experiencing rapid housing growth, was one of several Tories to voice concerns in parliament. She said Buckinghamshire county council had warned that it could not “provide the key infrastructure that is required for new schools and additional places”.

She insisted that her main message was about the need for more funding, but made it clear that more flexibility was needed to ensure places could be created where they were needed. “I thought our policy was supposed to be all about responding to demand,” she said.

Other Tory MPs who voiced concerns about looming shortages of places in their areas were Steve Baker (Wycombe) and Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton). Nick Gibb, the schools minister, insisted that enough money was being provided to councils to ensure sufficient school places…

Roy Perry, the Tory leader of Hampshire county council and chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said councils had created 300,000 extra primary school places by expanding class sizes, converting non-classroom space and diverting money from vital school repair programmes, but now needed to be able to expand schools or establish new ones to meet demand….

A department for education spokesman said: “…Instead of scaremongering, the LGA need to ensure they use the funds provided by Government to secure enough places. Councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient school places in their area, and we expect them to plan effectively and make good investment decisions. 

“Where local authorities identify the need for a new school they are required by law to invite proposals for a new free school and then forward these to the Department to decide on the options. We would encourage councils to work with RSCs, using their combined local knowledge, to identify top sponsors for new schools in their area, and are confident there is sufficient quantity of quality sponsors to meet demand. We encourage all good academies to grow, to help give every child the world-class education they deserve.”

More at: Tory MPs call for U-turn on education as school places squeeze looms


How significant do you feel this potential rebellion over Conservative policy actually is, and what impact do you think it might have?

And is the DfE fair is suggestions that local authorities, whilst not able to build new schools themselves, are perhaps not doing enough to encourage and facilitate others to do so?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Local authorities and Policy.


  1. Nairb1

    So the DfE’s response confirms that ideology over rides all concerns for pupils and communities as far as this government is concerned.

  2. VictoriaJaquiss

    Well, the Tory MPs are torn between being loyal,to their party (and staying in power), and fighting for something that’s glaringly obvious, even a Tory MP, namely that it’s way beyond unreasonable to demand of councils, with all their previous experience in education to help a bunch of cowboy amateur school providers build schools in their city. All the chickens in the academy department have now come home to roost and are falling off the perches. The Tory MPs now know that Labour is a credible opposition at last; just waiting for Lucy Powell together her act together. Privatisation of public services is as corrupt as it is stupid.

  3. The DfE spokesperson who said ‘ Councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient school places in their area, and we expect them to plan effectively ‘ doesn’t seem to have grasped (deliberately so, perhaps) that LAs can’t direct academies to expand.  Neither can they commission their own schools but have to waste time touting around for a free school proposer group.
    If LAs are given legal responsibility for something, then they need the power to do it.  But the Coalition stripped LAs of their power and this Government continues to do so by hoping all schools will be academies.

  4. TW

    ““I thought our policy was supposed to be all about responding to demand,” she said.”

    And it is.  The demand of business parasites that the education service be converted into profit centres for them to exploit.

  5. wasateacher

    This was so predictable.  Academy trusts are going to want to open schools in areas where they are likely to be able to claim a success, not where school places are needed.

    We already have ‘free’ schools which have been opened in areas with surplus places and then been closed down because of lack of demand, wasting the start up money.  The DfE doesn’t have the capacity to respond in detail to local needs – nor, it appears, does it have the wish.  

    What we have is proof that privatisation in essential state services is a road to chaos.

  6. Trudgeteacher

    MaryBoustedATL surely this ‘market’ will lead to someone with an eye for the bottom line to cash in on a couple of free schools in area

Let us know what you think...