Classroom crisis looms for children entering primary and secondary education

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In 2001, Tony Blair famously said the words “education, education, education” as he launched Labour’s education manifesto. New Labour outlined that education was a top priority, a way of developing the UK’s talent and raising the ambitions of young people. However, the children born in the years since then are heading into education with no guarantee that they will be taught in class sizes that deliver the best learning experience.

A national challenge

Our latest research, The School Places Challenge, reveals that by the academic year 2021/22, England will see more than 385,000 additional pupils enter the primary and secondary school system, creating the need for 12,835 extra classrooms. This is a national challenge, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also seeing an additional 33,179 pupils enter the school system by 2020/21, requiring an extra 1,136 classrooms.

Of the 640 new schools needed in the UK by 2021/22, the majority are secondary schools, resulting from a spike in birth rates in 2009 meaning an additional 313,164 youngsters will join secondary schools across the UK in the next three years.

We should be proactively using birth rates to predict when we will experience increased demand for housing, healthcare and education.

Mark Robinson
SCAPE group chief executive

We have the data; we need to be analysing it and acting in advance to combat the issues before they hit. This is the fourth iteration of our report looking at the school places capacity crisis, and whilst local authorities have made great strides in increasing the number of primary schools, more needs to be done, and it needs to be done urgently.

As with many critical issues that desperately need political attention, education has dropped down the agenda as government bodies focus on Brexit and our future position with the rest of the world. If a step change does not take place quickly, the effect on education standards and the wider economy will be felt for generations to come. Education is essential to social mobility. Super-sized classes of more than 30 pupils, are on the rise however they are detrimental to the education the next generation is receiving.

A collective effort

We must collectively focus on delivering a strategy and solutions which not only provide high-quality, modern spaces for teaching and learning but also offer our colleagues in local authorities cost certainty, value for money and timely delivery.

Faced with this challenge, we need to consider viable solutions to help meet demand. One solution that should become commonplace is the adoption of offsite construction as the main method of building for all new schools and extensions. This would mean that they are built more efficiently and cost-effectively. These benefits are becoming more widely acknowledged, but modular can benefit the UK’s school estates even further. Standardised exteriors and components can increase the amount of time a design team can spend configuring the interior, creating an environment that encourages learning and inspires pupils.

Reviewing demand

Greater collaboration between local authorities and developers would ensure that secondary schools are being provided as part of major urban extensions and built where there I the greatest demand. Finally, we need to create a fairer funding model that gives our local authorities the ability to determine funding budgets and approve free school proposals to make sure they are being provided where they are needed.

Many young people that are entering primary education or progressing into secondary school grew up under austerity, which has seen the closure of libraries, huge cuts to Sure Start and a decline in youth services as local authorities have seen their budgets squeezed. We cannot afford to give these children anything but the best when it comes to formal, mandatory state education.

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Written by:

Mark Robinson

Group Chief Executive