This morning, as parents were getting their children ready for their first day at school, the Education Secretary was taking to the airwaves. To many parents, who will be sending their children into overcrowded classrooms, they will be astonished by the complacency shown by Michael Gove. David Cameron’s Government has created a crisis in primary school places, of its own making; with a forecast shortfall of places of 240,000 by 2015. Michael Gove has no business grandstanding about his record.
He and David Cameron cut schools capital spending by 60 per cent on taking office – twice as much as the cuts to other departments’ capital budgets. In fact, the cut to education capital spending is more than the overall cut to capital spending across all Government departments.
The outcome of this is revealed today. A surge in class sizes of more than 30 infants. Data from the DfE shows that this trend has doubled over the past year.
We are seeing a rise in the number of ‘titan schools’- super-sized primary schools like Gascoigne Primary in Barking. I visited Gascoigne Primary last year. This is a school striving to meet demand. This is commendable. But what of the Government’s role?
It is the foremost duty in education for a government to provide a proper place for every child. But things are set to get worse, not better, as this out of touch Government chooses to stand by on the sidelines.
Today the cross party Local Government Association forecast that for almost half of all areas in England, pupils will exceed places within the next two years. This only 24 hours after the cross party organisation London Councils- which represents the 33 London boroughs- warned of a huge shortfall in the capital.
Michael Gove points to the free schools programme as the solution. But of the free schools planned for 2014, fewer than one third are primary schools.
Worse still, the Government has refused to grant Local Authorities the ability to set up new schools to respond to local shortages. Conservative LGA spokesman David Simmonds warned of ‘unprecedented pressures’ in addressing the ‘desperate shortages’.
Labour had a primary school capital programme in place, aimed to rebuild and expand existing schools in response to demand for new places. By abandoning the focus on expanding primary capacity as a priority area for capital investment, the government has landed itself in a position where many parents are unable to find a proper place for their child, within their area.
We know what all of this means of course. Children being taught in classrooms of more than 30 pupils. Outdoor space being taken up by temporary buildings, as classroom rolls expand. All this amounts to a situation that will damage, not raise, standards in primary schools. All this from a Tory party that claimed to be committed to smaller primary schools.
David Cameron and Michael Gove have had plenty of warnings. Only in June, it was revealed that the government’s flagship ‘priority school building programme’ had succeeded in opening only a single new school. Today, we see more of the same from a complacent government that is out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.
Stephen Twigg is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.