Grammars cannot solve the school places crisis

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The £320 million announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Budget to build a new wave of Grammar schools looks set to relieve pressure felt by local authorities buckling under the weight of demand for more school places – however in reality, I would argue it’s more of a move borne out of ideological stubbornness rather than a measure which delves deep enough to really tackle the shortage.

Free schools and the weakening of local authority control of education already makes planning for more school places and school building extremely difficult – causing a real headache for local authorities who need to increase capacity in areas which need it most. Add into the mix the controversy and potential resistance that highly political grammars could create locally, not to mention the problems that already come with the negotiation of land for free school sites, and we could see new grammars take years to materialise.

Time is a luxury this government can ill afford. Our own research found that the UK needs over 2,000 new schools by 2020, or 24,000 extra classrooms – in order to cater for the 730,000 extra school pupils that the government predicts we will have in a just few years’ time.

Unlike existing schools, new grammars will require new teachers, a new curriculum and the creation of a robust process for selection of pupils, which will inevitably take time to pull together. The £216 million set aside for refurbishments is not enough, and marks a government prepared to invest in their grammar school vision over futureproofing successful structures already in place.

As such, the Chancellor’s announcement is just a drop in the ocean that is our school building challenge. Government resources are best deployed to address the capacity issue within existing schools’ structures, and to extend and provide additional places that way. This is both the most cost effective option, as well as the most time efficient.

Until the government listens to the industry and takes pragmatic action they cannot claim to be safeguarding the futures of young people.

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Written by:

Mark Robinson

Group Chief Executive