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Cameron’s classroom squeeze: almost one in five schools are over capacity, as parents rush to meet deadline to apply for a primary school place

As parents rush to meet the deadline for primary school applications this week, new analysis of Freedom of Information requests reveals that almost one in five primary schools have more pupils than they have capacity for – forcing many children into large classes or temporary, make-shift classrooms.

Schools feeling the squeeze on places include:

  • A primary school in Northumberland that has bought and converted a double decker bus into a classroom, after running out of space in the school building, with toilets and cupboards already converted into teaching spaces.
  • A primary school in Barking and Dagenham with 1,200 pupils, which has converted its playing field, library and old music block into classrooms and now has eight mobile classrooms on the playground.
  • A primary school in Bristol that has annexed and converted a police station to cope with the demand.

Responses to Freedom of Information requests also suggest that this problem is likely to get worse, with many local authorities still facing a desperate need for more school places – more than three quarters of councils are in need of additional primary school places over the next three years.

In Leicestershire 53.3% of primary schools and 51.7% of secondary schools have more pupils than they have capacity for. The council forecasts that 3032 additional primary and 2006 additional secondary school places are needed by September 2019.  

At the same time, hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on David Cameron’s flagship Free Schools in areas where there is no shortage of school places. Responses to recent Freedom of Information requests show that four in five of the new Free Schools this academic year had not filled all their places on opening - just two of the new mainstream primary Free Schools had all the pupils they planned for.

Tristram Hunt MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“David Cameron is irresponsibly diverting millions away from children in areas with a shortage of school places in order to fund his pet project Free Schools programme in areas where there are already enough places. This is affecting school standards and creating a classroom squeeze, with more infants being crammed into large classes and pupils being taught in makeshift temporary classrooms.

“Unlike this Tory-led Government, Labour has the right priorities for raising school standards. We will prioritise new school places in areas where there are shortages, have rigorous local oversight of schools and ensure that all teachers have or are working towards qualified teacher status.”

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