AT the moment Oxfordshire County Council does not have much control over the expansion of its primary schools and it has no way of tackling it unless the Government listens to submissions, writes John Howson.
If the Government wants to hurtle ahead and open a free school, the local authority has all of the risk and none of the certainty because the Secretary of State can come in and trample all over them.
At the moment the county council cannot even open a new primary or secondary school – it has to send it out to tender – and some of the new schools are being run by people who have no connection to the community.
There is the risk that either they will never come and visit the school or they will not be able to sustain it.
Either the Government has got to completely nationalise schools and take local authorities out of the equation, or come to a sensible solution where there is rational local planning, which I would prefer because schools are an essential part of the local community and it is important they are part of the democratic process of local planning.
This is currently a problem in primary schools but eventually this will also become an issue for secondary schools.
At the moment there is spare capacity within secondary schools but that will probably be used up before long and it will mean parents who are used to getting their child into a school of their choice won’t be able to.
There is always friction in urban areas when pupil rolls go up because there are very few sites for new schools, but if we have more children we have to find somewhere for them to go to school.
I am not a huge fan of having huge schools. I don’t think there is an issue in terms of classroom learning because the unit size will remain the same but the issues are at break time in the playground.
Going to have a meal in a school hall with 700 or 800 other children is quite daunting for a five-year-old.
I think this will mean we are going to have to continue to put children in temporary classrooms in the city. If the growth is in Oxford we will not be able to afford to send our children to schools across Oxfordshire because of the transport costs.
We will have to find the places in the city and if that means temporary classrooms that’s what we will have to do.
But then you get back to the problem of the county council not controlling an increasing number of schools. If the Government doesn’t step in and there are not enough places then it will fall back on council tax payers because they are going to have to pay for the increased transport costs.
That means social services or libraries or something else will have to suffer if academies don’t co-operate.
So far most academies are being co-operative with the county council, but it only takes one not to be for this to cause problems.