THE BLOG

This Year's Shortage of Primary School Places Was Entirely Avoidable

03/04/2015 19:33 BST | Updated 03/06/2015 10:59 BST

Two long anticipated events draw closer this Easter - and the chance to remove this useless Tory government is just one of them. The other is parents' anxious wait to get their child into a good local primary school. In a crowded field it surely ranks as one of the most fraught experiences of parenting. With good reason too - evidence repeatedly shows how the first few years of education are absolutely crucial to life-long success. Eighty percent of the GCSE attainment gap - now rising under this Government - is already present by the age of seven. You would never guess it given English education's mania for debating secondary school structures, but primary schools, alongside Sure Start, represent the frontline in our battle against entrenched educational inequality. And as our brave new world accentuates the importance of a great education the value of attending a good one will only increase.

In twelve days' time this worrisome vigil ends and parents of around 380,000 children will receive that precious envelope. But this year's admissions process has been horribly distorted by a shortage in primary school places that looks set to leave many parents disappointed. New statistics published today by the independent Local Government Association reveal that in 29 local authorities - around one in five - there will be more pupils than places this September. Shockingly, this will rise to two fifths of the country by September 2016 and more than half by 2017.

No doubt David Cameron will seek to deflect the blame. But parents need to know: this crisis was entirely avoidable. Pupils attending school this September have never experienced the joy of a progressive, reforming Labour government. They were born under this Government's watch and five years is ample time to prepare.

What is more, in the teeth of rising pupil numbers, the Government has spent at least £241m opening free schools in areas where there is already a surplus of school places. And rather than commit - like Labour - to prioritising our scarce public resources on areas where need is greatest, the Prime Minister wants to continue the free schools charade. Last month he announced that a new Tory government would expand this discredited programme, starving areas where there are more pupils than places of yet more vital investment.

This will cripple primary schools already wresting with classrooms that are full to bursting. The number of infants in classes larger than thirty pupils has soared by a staggering 200 per cent under the current government. Libraries, music halls, office blocks, converted buses - children are being squeezed into any space that can hold them. Make no mistake: these overflowing classrooms, with children receiving less individual attention from their teachers, represent a serious threat to the discipline, high standards and excellence all children deserve as they begin their education.

What today's analysis clearly shows is that five more years of David Cameron will see increasing shortages of primary school places and class sizes growing even larger. Labour has a better plan - we will end the wasteful and poorly performing free schools programme and spend the money we save in areas that need more schools places, increasing capacity so we can cap class sizes for five, six and seven year olds at thirty. Because we understand that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed, so we will support parents and given them the peace of mind that comes from access to a good school place for their child.