The debate was sought after it became clear that local secondary school pupil numbers would grow 22% by 2015/16, the second highest growth rate in the UK. Despite Barnet Council’s own and well-regarded £250m primary school expansion programme there is also pressure on primary schools in much of the constituency. Currently primary schools are creating space for more pupils through the use of portacabins and changing IT rooms and libraries into classrooms, but these are temporary solutions.
As a result of the volume of pupils vying for places the number of first preferences granted in Barnet Local Education Authority (LEA) is just 62%, well below the national average of 85%. For parents these figures represent months of worry that their children will not get into the right school.
The shortage is being driven by more parents sending their children to state schools and demographic change in the Borough of Barnet as more families move into the area. Many are being attracted by the excellent and improving results of local schools.
During the adjournment debate entitled ‘School places in Finchley’ Mike Freer said, “In Finchley there is no shortage of good schools at primary and secondary level. We even have schools with the space to expand; what we do not have are the capital grants to fund the expansion... I appreciate that capital is scarce, and I appreciate the difficulties that the Minister is experiencing. I am not asking him to issue a cheque this evening, although I am pretty sure that we would name a school after him if he did.
I hope the Minister will accept my view that we must seek to overhaul the capital allocation formula, reward good local education authorities, fund good schools so that they can flourish and expand, help parents to secure their preferences, and give pupils the best possible education and start in life. All that I ask this evening is that he agree to meet me, along with the chief executive and leader of the council, to discuss what targeted support he is able to provide.”
Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for Schools, replied saying, “I know that my hon. Friend is no stranger to the issues surrounding Finchley and Golders Green, as he has served the community well in local and national Government for a number of years.
We are serious about getting education funding right in the future. I agree with my hon. Friend that the current capital allocation system is overly complex and unfair, which is why the Department is taking steps to ensure that future capital expenditure delivers greater value for money for everyone involved in the education sector, and that the maximum number of children benefit.
I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the very difficult fiscal situation faced by the country, but I would be pleased to meet him and his colleagues from Barnet council to discuss these issues further.”
Following the debate Mike Freer MP pledged to work closely with local parents and Barnet Council in order to find a long-term solution.