Last Thursday Jon Cruddas MP asked a question in the House of Commons on school places in Barking and Dagenham. Jon's opening statement can be found below, and the full debate can be found here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2016-03-17a.1204.0&s=speaker%3...

I want to make several points regarding school places and school funding in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. I will not use all my allotted time so that my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge can also contribute before the Minister responds.

From the outset, I should say that our local authority appreciates the work carried out between the Education Funding Agency and local authority officers and that the need to meet additional demand has been recognised by the Government. My concern today is to ensure that this recognition translates into genuine action and appropriate funding arrangements over the years that lie ahead. I want to go into some detail regarding the challenges we face that are difficult for national allocation formulae and systems fully to understand, in the hope of ensuring that the Treasury grants the Department for Education the money it needs.

To set this in context, there are obvious London-wide pressures on school places. London Councils’ “Do the Maths 2015” analysis shows that London’s pupil population is set to increase by a further 146,000 between 2015 and 2020; that London needs to create 113,000 new school places over the course of this Parliament; and that it needs £1.5 billion of basic need funding by 2020 to create the new places required. Even set against that capital-wide challenge, the challenges facing Barking and Dagenham are unique in terms of demographic change, pressure for school places and an ageing school estate.

When I was first elected, the borough would have been characterised as a relatively stable community with a slightly ageing population. This picture of stability was reflected in the school numbers: between 2000-01 and 2005-6, primary school numbers actually fell by 150. In contrast, over the last 10 years, the borough has become one of the fastest-changing communities in Britain. We have to deal with demographic changes the likes of which we could never have imagined back in 2001, let alone 2005, driven by the fact that we remain the cheapest housing market across Greater London.

We saw a 43% increase in primary pupil numbers between 2009-10 and 2014-15, and this is likely to rise to 48% by 2016-17. At 48%, this will be the highest increase in England. Between 2009 and 2013-14, the headcount rose by 7,421. Those areas with a higher headcount were Birmingham, Bradford, Hertfordshire, Manchester and Surrey—none comparable in terms of the size of the community. Barking and Dagenham remains a relatively small London borough. This year—in a single year—we saw a 12.7% increase in the number of year 6 children applying for secondary school places next year, which is the highest in London by over 3%. The proportion of children under 19 in the population is expected to reach at least 33% before 2020. This is 10% higher than the average for England and around 8% higher than the average for London.

All those increases are before the significant increases we expect owing to increased housing units across the borough. For example, we are looking at development sites across Castle Green, Barking Riverside, Barking town centre, Creekmouth, Thames road and Beam park and the old Ford stamping plant, which amount to some 29,300-plus units over the next decade or more.

Already, the borough has committed to support the London Mayor by providing 5% of the planned growth in housing for London—some 75% higher than we might have expected on a pro-rata basis. This will go a long way to meeting London’s housing crisis, but we must make sure that it does not fuel a deepening school places crisis locally. The latest estimates from the LEA are of a further 5,500 increase in the primary school population by 2021-22 and a 7,700 increase in the secondary school population. Overall, we are witnessing a unique population surge. Just after the 2020 election, the school population will be over 50,000—virtually double the headcount compared with when I was first elected in 2001.

Let us now consider some of the funding implications. Based on our place projections for up to 2021, a total of 20 additional forms of entry will be needed at primary level, which is equivalent to around seven new schools, costing approximately £63 million. At secondary level, we anticipate 41 extra forms of entry, which is about the size of four large secondary schools, costing about £100 million. We will also need to expand our special educational needs provision, while early years numbers are also rising.

I have just alluded to an awful lot of money, but we are talking about an awful lot of children. Within these estimates, and given the record of our borough, our capital costs per place are well below the median for the region—and below our immediate neighbours—for both expanding and new school places. To add to the picture, we cannot forget how we as a borough lost out badly with the end of both the Building Schools for the Future and the primary schools capital programmes.

BSF covered all nine secondary schools in the borough. In the event, only two schools, Sydney Russell in the Barking constituency and Dagenham Park in my Dagenham and Rainham constituency, were covered by the residual BSF programme. Those two schools cost roughly £50 million. The BSF programme was valued at some £250 million, so the investment gap stands at about £200 million. Since BSF, capital spending on Eastbury, Eastbrook and the Riverside schools has reduced this investment shortfall to about £105 million, according to the latest estimate. Given that the primary capital programme never happened in any significant way, money to improve the structure of existing buildings has had to be spent on addressing our primary places shortfall. Obviously, things do not stand still, and programme cancellations have contributed to a growing need for capital repairs and minor works to keep the school estate functioning.

Basically, we receive £4 million from the Government for this, but estimate that we need £32.5 million for secondary school condition improvement and £40 million for primary school condition improvement. Why? Well, unlike much of the London schools estate, many of our schools were built during the 1921-1935 period and now require major infrastructure repairs.

Two of our largest and most popular secondary schools, Barking Abbey and Robert Clack, missed out on both the Building Schools for the Future programme and the more recent bid rounds for the priority schools building programme. We also have some schools that require significant investment to make them 100% accessible—with the growth in pupil numbers, our schools are serving many more children with special education needs and disabilities. Cumulatively, given the exceptional demographic growth, the investment shortfall and deteriorating estate, we face extraordinary funding problems.

Barking and Dagenham has been allocated £162 million between 2011-12 and 2017-18, yet we need to expand our primary provision at the same time as needing to meet the growth in demand reaching our secondary schools. This is simply not enough to build the quality of schools that our children deserve. Overall, we need to use revenue funding to supplement capital costs and maintenance—vital money that is needed to improve outcomes and meet the needs of a very mobile community.

We also have to factor in how the Government wish to create a national funding formula, but we hope this will not further disadvantage students in our borough. We will obviously respond in detail to the national funding formula consultation, but fear it will impact on the revenue available to support our schools in meeting this huge population increase.

On a more positive note, I can say that, despite all those challenges, Barking and Dagenham has a strong track record of delivering sufficient places. We have opened, on time, a higher number of school places than any other borough in the country, but if we are to continue to achieve that, we shall need sufficient long-term funding commitments. We have invited Lord Nash to visit the borough so that he can see at first hand the state of the buildings and the pressures on space. He has acknowledged that the borough has taken a pragmatic approach to securing school places, working with the EFA. We should like to extend, again, that invitation to view schools and meet headteachers, officers and local politicians to discuss the issues.

Despite needing to manage a huge increase in population, our schools are improving. Over the past five years, we have closed the gap between ourselves and others in good Ofsted outcomes by some 30% at primary level. In November 2014, Ofsted said:

“A good quality education for all and improving academic standards are at the heart of Barking and Dagenham’s ambitious vision. The local authority is facing significant demographic changes and challenges, such as an increasing population, increasing population mobility, greater ethnic diversity and increasing poverty. None of these is accepted by officers and elected members as a barrier to educational achievement.

Senior officers and elected members provide strong leadership. The impact of the local strategy is fewer schools causing concern and rising standards across all phases of education that now match or exceed national averages.”

As I have said, we appreciate that we are recognised as a special case by the Government, but that is not enough. During the Budget debates yesterday and today, we have heard a lot about school structures, but very little about the kinds of pressures we are facing locally.

Literally within the last hour, the Department has sent LEAs the 2018-19 allocations. We welcome the allocations of some £5 million in 2018-19 and £17 million in 2017-18, which increase our capacity to start planning in advance of some of the changes to which I have referred. We hope that longer-term allocations will be available, as secondary schools cannot be built bit by bit, and need to be planned several years in advance. The figure is lower than we hoped, given the cost of building a new secondary school, but it is a contribution, along with the allocation of free school places to the borough.

I assume that the Minister’s response will be to acknowledge the pressures and challenges that I have described. May I suggest it is now time to move beyond mere acceptance, and towards detailed discussions of the actions and funding that are required to secure continued school expansion and improvement in the years that lie ahead?