“The National Audit Office tell us that a very large number of new school places are needed—420,000… At the same time, per pupil spending is falling in real terms.”
Jeremy Corbyn, 8 March 2017
“The majority of free schools that have been opened, have been opened in areas where there’s a need for school places. And the majority have been opened, actually, in areas of disadvantage—where they are helping the very children we want to see getting the opportunity to get on in life.”
Theresa May, 8 March 2017
Rising pupil numbers will mean that 420,000 new school places are needed in primary and secondary schools across England between 2016 and 2021, according the National Audit Office.
Around 232,000 will be in primary schools and 189,000 in secondary schools.
There were almost 600,000 new school places created between 2010 and 2015. Around 20% of these came from free schools. That rises to 43% if you just look at new secondary school places.
It’s also correct that the majority of free schools have been opened in areas where there is a need for it. 83% of new free schools approved since 2013 were in areas where there was a local need for places.
The National Audit Office also says that “the Department [for Education] estimates that 56,000 of the 113,500 new places in mainstream free schools opening between 2015 and 2021 will contribute to meeting local demographic need for new places”.
We’ve asked the Department for Education what the Prime Minister was referring to when she said that the majority of free schools had been opened in disadvantaged areas.
In September last year the government said that 48% of the 344 free schools which had been opened up until that point were in the most deprived 30% of areas in England.
Overall spending on mainstream schools, including free schools, is set to increase from £35 billion in 2015/16 to £38 billion in 2019/20. At the same time, spending per pupil is expected to decrease by 6.5% according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, taking account of inflation. This rises to 8% when comparing 2014/15 to 2019/20 and taking account of increasing costs of things like staff pension schemes, according to the National Audit Office.