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Increase in School Numbers for the First Time in Five Years

by SG World
May 7, 2013

The year 2011 – 2012 was the first time since 2006 that the number of schools in England rose rather than fell. The previous five years had all seen reductions in the total number, averaging a drop of 141 schools per year, with 2006 – 2007 showing the largest decrease, counting 179 schools lost. However in 2011 – 2012 an increase of 41 schools was recorded.

This reversal in fortunes has been attributed to the changing school system: there were 180 new Academies created, 830 existing schools which converted to Academies, and Free Schools were also introduced. 69 Free Schools were founded during this time, their first full year. These changes are altering the education landscape considerably.

School buildings.There are now 3,167 schools across the country which are either Academies, or which are en route to gain Academy status soon. Many existing schools have been tempted to seek Academy status due to the increase in funding per pupil available. They tend to maintain the same staff, pupils and buildings but have more money to invest in equipment and the school environment, which is proving very popular among staff, pupils and parents, and the results are speaking for themselves. Sponsored Academies are showing record improvements in GCSE results, and are “improving their GCSE results five times faster than other schools”. This forms part of a trend which is even helping to narrow the achievement gap between the poorest pupils and the other pupils.

Changes are also on the cards for Free Schools to get rid of some of the barriers which are currently in place and make the process of starting up difficult. By removing these problems from the application process, it is hoped that it will help to increase the number of these schools. The Government is talking of plans to reduce the amount of red tape involved in Free Schools converting empty buildings so that they can get established more quickly. There have been concerns that the time it takes for Free Schools to get permission to use buildings which are out of use leads to lengthy and unsettling delays for both parents and schools alike.

The changes are set to reduce the period of time it takes to get through the Planning Permission process. The new laws will “allow Free Schools to open in almost any building for a year without needing planning permission, removing concerns that schools cannot open in time”. They will then be given extra time to complete the further Planning Permission application, which they will need following their first year, in order to continue teaching in the building in question. The main delays are those which happen because a proposed Free School wants to use a building which was not previously a school, so offices and hotels are amongst those buildings which it will be easier for the schools to receive permission to use. Assessments will still take place, but they will be less intrusive and more streamlined.

In the 18 months since they were introduced, 80 Free Schools have been founded. A further 100 are planned to be ready in time for the next academic year in September 2013.

(Photo Credit: Alex Pepperhill)

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