SHADOW education secretary Tristram Hunt has hit out at the Government for creating “half empty” free schools at a time when cities like Leeds face major pressure for places.
The Labour MP met with parents and teachers in Guiseley today where two schools are being expanded because of the increased demand.
He said: “It’s not right that while there are free schools standing half-empty on one side of town, local authorities are not allowed to build new schools where there is pressure on places - Labour will change that so that new schools are re located where they are most needed.”
There has been controversy over the £3.1m Leeds Jewish free school which opened with just eight pupils last year and has taken on just 11 in year seven last month - meaning both of its first two year groups are less than half full.
Labour said that although Leeds had enough places to meet total demand next year there were hotspots were demand “significantly outstrips supply.”
A party spokesman said that the strain on places in the city could be seen through the increase in class sizes. There are said to be 2,346 children in large class sizes of more than 30 in Leeds – which is more than a three fold increase on 2010.
However education minister Nick Gibb, who was also visiting the area yesterday, hit back saying that the coalition had invested far more both in Leeds and nationally on creating new school places than the previous Labour Government had done. He said the Government had doubled the amount being invested in creating new places. “In Leeds we have spent £84.6m between 2011 and 2015 compared with £15.9m between 2007 and 2011. And we are planning to invest £39.8m from 2015 to 2017,” he added.
Mr Hunt hosted a discussion at Guiseley Nursery and Infants yesterday with Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Pudsey Jamie Hanley about school places. The school took on a “bulge” class this year because of demand. Both Guiseley Infants and St Oswalds Junior School in the town are set to expand to become primary schools from next year. The expansion is being delivered with more than £4m Government funding. However a report to Leeds City Council’s executive board last month identified a shortfall of more than £40m in Government funding to create the places needed over the next five years.
Mr Gibb was also in the area today visiting Crossley Street Primary in Wetherby after being invited by MP for Elmet and Rothwell Alec Shelbrooke.
He said he had been impressed with both the school and its pupils: “I have visited more than 300 schools in the past 12 years and you can tell quickly when you see a good school. The pupils’ behaviour at Crossley Street was exemplary and it has got very good key stage two results.”