School Places

MQT on 2017-08-10
Session date: 
August 10, 2017
Question By: 
Len Duvall OBE
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Are London boroughs able to fulfil their statutory obligation to provide school places for all those that need them?


Answer for School Places

Answer for School Places

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Providing a good school place for every London child is an essential part of making London a great place to live and to bring up your family.  London boroughs have done a fantastic job so far expanding primary and secondary schools to meet demand.  I am pleased that Justine Greening [Secretary of State for Education] announced in July that some new schools will be developed through the local authority route.  New schools should be planned with the local authority. 


However, I am concerned that London boroughs will find it increasingly difficult to deliver the new secondary schools that the city needs.  This is the most pressing problem as approximately 105,000 extra secondary school places will be needed by 2025.  The growth of the city creates demands on the available land.  Schools are part of the city’s social infrastructure and this is a key part of the London Plan.  Bold and positive measures must be sought so that London can accommodate new schools in mixed developments in a way that enhances neighbourhoods and supports communities. 


The Government’s free schools policy means that there are two parallel systems of funding for school places.  One system is the London borough, providing for schools where there is a growth in pupil numbers.  Running alongside this and funded centrally by the Government is the free school system with no published information on expenditure and costs.  The current system is overly complicated and creates competition for land, driving up the costs of new schools.  I am calling on all stakeholders involved: boroughs, the DfE, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Local Ed, Regional Schools Commissioners, London Councils and the developer community to work more closely.  A far greater level of transparency is needed to ensure that together we plan for new schools within new developments and other available land, ensuring that school designs are of the standard we would want for London’s pupils. 


Len Duvall AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.  In your answer, you talked about a parallel system and that transparency, not associated with these parallel systems, is causing a problem.  When borough leaders cannot tell you what is going on in their borough because the new Regional Schools Commissioners have not shared it with them, it just seems nonsense.  I would like you to continue to support those borough leaders, of whatever party, to be able to get to the bottom of what is going on in their borough and what the plans are, and, more importantly ‑ and I think our Education Panel has had difficulties in getting the Regional Schools Commissioners to attend ‑ start to question the role of these three.  Does that not stop pan‑London planning and the degree of that cross‑borough activity going on in school places that needs to be challenged?  Boris Johnson [MP, former Mayor of London], in his last administration, came out against the three and said there should be one for London.  Is that your view in terms of the evidence you have had so far and the conversations that you have had?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  No, I agree with Boris Johnson.  There should be one Regional Schools Commissioner for London.  I have made the case for a single Regional Schools Commissioner for London, to give Boris credit, as you have done and as Boris did.  Strategic oversight for London is essential to galvanise the creation of new places, as we have discussed, secure the pool of great new teachers and improve schools. 


One thing we have not discussed, Chair, and it is just worth us recognising, is the difficulty schools have recruiting and retaining teachers in London.  There is not simply a high vacancy rate in the NHS and nursing professions.  I was the governor of a primary school from 1994 until 2016.  In recent years, we have had huge problems recruiting and retaining teachers.  We have to recognise that the current model of three Regional Commissioners is not really working.  If we had one Regional Commissioner in charge of London it would make a big difference.  It is not a party-political point, by the way.  Most people who understand London get it. 


Len Duvall AM:  In an earlier answer you alluded to the role of a cross‑party approach.  It is not just an inner or outer London problem; it is going to be a London-wide problem.  Can we try to get consensus to get to the Government and say, “We want more transparency because we want to be able to plan, rather than wait for the catastrophe to happen and for someone to drop the ball”?  That is where we are heading to, unless there is a challenge there.  Will you lead that and ask the players that could be to say, “Come on, let us get to grips with this before it becomes” ‑‑ I believe it is heading for a catastrophe unless someone gets a real grip of the situation. 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We are already at crisis levels.  We need 105,000 new places by 2025 at a time when land is short, at a time when there are two parallel processes and at a time when ‑ it is just the observation of a fact ‑ the Government is partial and biased toward free schools.  Local authority leaders of all parties are pulling their hair out because where you need a school they are not being built, they are being built in other areas of the borough where there is no need for a school and there are surplus school places.  We have to bring it together.  I welcome the announcement from the Secretary of State for Education to give local authorities a role in relation to new school places.  Why do we need an alternative model anyway?  I am hoping for a return to local democratic accountability and planning.  They are very important. 


Len Duvall AM:  Thank you very much.  I hope you can brief the Assembly in the future about how far you have succeeded in bringing these people together for what makes sense for the communities of London to have a better deal out of this.  These are difficult times in any public sector but the education sector is the one where we need to work harder to make sure it does not fall over the edge. 


Jennette Arnold OBE AM (Chair):  Thank you, Assembly Member Duvall, and thank you, Mayor.