Michael Gove should be held to account over the crisis facing London’s schools

I would like to see Michael Gove asked the following question: does he stand for every school child, or just those who attend academies and free schools?

Annie Powell is a governor at a Southwark school

Last month the body that represents London’s 33 local authorities issued the government with a stark warning: without additional funds, councils will soon be unable to guarantee a permanent school place for every child in the capital.

It is slightly surreal to think that this could happen in 21st century Britain, but the threat is real. As the report by London Councils states, ‘the problem…is so acute that London boroughs…face a funding shortfall of close to £1.04 billion to ensure that every pupil in London has a permanent school place up to 2015/16’.

This represents 118,000 primary and secondary school pupils who, unless urgent action is taken, will not have a permanent place by 2016.

While this news was widely reported last month, the full extent of Michael Gove’s responsibility for the impending crisis in London’s schools was not conveyed. Coverage focused almost exclusively on the rapidly rising school-age population in the capital and London’s inadequate funding settlement (London has 42 per cent of all place shortages in England but will only receive 36 per cent of the basic need capital allocation for 2013 to 2015).

Missing was an analysis of how Gove’s aggressive implementation of the academy and free school programme has made the pressure on places much, much worse.

Funding academies where there is no shortage of places

If this government has successfully conveyed one message since it came to office, it’s that it doesn’t have much money to spend. You’d therefore be forgiven for thinking that the limited funds that are available for new schools would be reserved for areas with a current or impending shortage of space. Sadly, you’d be wrong.

In April the NUT, using Department for Education (DfE) data, showed that one in five free schools has opened, or are set to open, in areas where there is at least a 10 per cent surplus in places. What’s more, funds are often being used for secondary schools in areas where the pressing need is for primaries. Examples given by the NUT include Bedford, which will have a 38 per cent shortfall of primary places by 2016-17 but which saw a new secondary open last year, and Suffolk, where three secondary free schools have opened at a cost of £3.67m despite a 28 per cent surplus in secondary places.

When confronted with this data, the DfE said that the majority of free schools were in areas with the greatest pressure on places and that ‘more than two-thirds of [free schools] planning to open from 2013 and beyond will also be in areas of basic need [areas where demand is forecast to exceed capacity]’. For some reason Michael Gove thinks it is acceptable for a third (or just under a third) of free schools to open in areas where there is no shortage of space at a time when resources are scarce and pressure on places is severe, particularly in London.

Stephen Twigg has been pointing out for some time that free schools are being set up in areas of surplus while over-subscribed areas are neglected, but so far this serious misallocation of public resources has not received the publicity it deserves.

Exempting academies from the duty to expand

Local authorities are under a legal duty to provide every child with a permanent school place. However, they have no power over academies and free schools, so they cannot require them to fill surplus places or to expand.

More than half of London’s secondary schools are academies. This means that local authorities have the extremely difficult task of finding space for all secondary school children with less than half of the area’s schools at their disposal. It is quite possible that the ludicrous situation will arise where local authorities cannot provide every child with a school place even though – and partly because – many of the academies in their area have the capacity to take more pupils. It is almost as if the government wants to put local authorities in an impossible position.

It is worth noting that the burden on local authority schools to absorb London’s growing school-age population is leading to a disparity between the quality of their facilities and those of academies. Building new schools in London is difficult because of relative shortage of space and high land costs, so many maintained schools have been forced to extend their existing buildings within school grounds, occasionally with temporary facilities. Sometimes these extensions eat into playground space with clear implications for children’s ability to play and thus for their well-being.

Overspend on academies

The Public Accounts Committee reported last month that the government had overspent on the academies budget by more than £1bn as a result of an ‘excessively complex and inefficient academy funding system’. This is money that could have been used to meet various pressing needs, including building new schools in London.

It’s vital that Labour step up their opposition on this issue. First, I would argue, Stephen Twigg should put public pressure on Gove to commit to financing new schools only where they address local shortages.

Second, Labour should both draw attention to the harm that the academies programme is doing to children who happen not to attend an academy and highlight that the system is deliberately rigged in favour of academies and free schools in a way which only works (‘works’) if such schools are a fraction of the whole. In this context I would like to see Michael Gove asked the following question: does he stand for every school child, or just those who attend academies and free schools?

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

20 Responses to “Michael Gove should be held to account over the crisis facing London’s schools”

  1. LB

    It’s not a funding issue. It’s a migration issue. Just shows that having large numbers of migrants means other people have to pay huge costs.

  2. HD3

    The solution lies in Gove’s Free Schools. Obviously.

    Since LEAs are expensive, overtly political, deny parents a free choice and prevent their best schools from expanding to meet demand, one might well wonder why we tolerate them at all!

    There were a very large number of very, very good schools prior to the nationalisation of education in 1944. Like everything else that’s ever been nationalised (thus limited choice and restricting diversity and evolution, whilst inflating costs and rationing supply) the solution is to fully privatise London’s education system (via Free Schools, Education Vouchers, entrance exams and scholarships to offset the fees every school is free to charge) and expose each and every school to red-blooded competition.

    The best will thrive, grow expand and take over the failing and bad – or they’ll simply close down.

    Under LEA control even the very, very worst schools remain open, whilst the best are unable to expand: the LEA’s ideal is to have precisely matched numbers of pupils and available places in every school in their area.

    Tesco (etc) do not seek to have precisely the number of loaves on their shelves that they expect to sell that day and Tesco are only as good as they are because like Sainsbury and Asda, they compete directly with Aldi/Lidl, on the one hand and Waitrose and M&S on the other.

    It’s the customers who choose – NOT The Management: and that’s the fundamental problem with LEAs – they both supply education AND make the choices. If they supply a wide range of education AND allow parents to make informed choices (via schools with entrance exams), then you’ll get good education.

  3. blarg1987

    There have also been very good schools since nationalisation, the flaw with the system you propose is that their would have to be some kind of incentive most likely financial.

    Now the trouble with most financial systems is that they focus on creating as much profit for the minimum resources possible so what is more likely to happen is those shcools that are the best will increase fees as they are the best schools rather then expand (look at the university system or rail system).

    Competition only works where supply exceeds demand and not the other way around and what you will most likely get is natural monopolies as we currently have with supermarkets who land bank.

    I accept no system is perfect but the least imperfect system has to be found, yees reform is needed maybe turning the wheel back a little bit or something new and innovative but we should look at other systems and their pro and cons first.

  4. Eso-Policier

    There is hope in europe. Because of the independence of wales in a few years. And because of other things. Read more

  5. WSOS

    This is absolute rubbish. Prior to 1944 vast numbers of children had virtually no education or, at best, only primary education. At that time there was plenty of work for those who were illiterate – things have changed. The myth that education in the past was better. There were appalling grammar schools. Some secondary modern schools were good but some didn’t expect children to take exams.

    LEAs may be expensive but many are very efficient and the advantage is that they do intervene with failing schools. That is not the case with the failing academies, nor those guilty of financial mismanagement. The problem is that huge amounts of money is being spent to try to persuade us that the academies (private trusts funded by central government) are successful. All the research shows that they are no more successful than ‘maintained’ schools but that the academies budget is overspent by £1 billion (National Audit Office).

    I can only assume HD3 that you are either Toby Young or ‘aving a laff.

  6. Cole

    Don’t ‘migrants’ pay taxes? Unlike privatised companies (npower) and multinational corporations.

  7. LB

    Some do. Some don;t.

    However all consume resources paid for by taxes.

    The question is do they pay enough tax to fund the resources they consume, or do they get a subsidy from others.

    If they consume more resources than taxes, they are bad for the economy. If not they are good.

    Your argument that any level of taxes, even just one penny, doesn’t wash.

    Your generalisation of migrants good doesn’t work either. Abu Quatada is a migrant and he’s not an economic benefit to the UK., Or are you siding with him telling other’s he’s going to pay their pensions?

  8. Conrad

    You do know that migrants pay emergency tax, which is above that of conventional income tax no? So pound for pound they contribute more to the exchequer every year than a Brit in the same job, as for potential threats to national security like Abu Quatada, i think the immigrant part of it is irrelevant, since its not a matter of border control as a Police/MI5 type deal.

  9. LB


    The question is do they pay more tax than the government spends on them.

    The answer in millions of cases is no.

    That means far from being a benefit, they are a liability.

    I notice too that you’re taking the line that migrants are better than British people. A tad racist isn’t it.

    If I were to say exactly the same, in reverse, that migrants aren’t as good as British, you would say that I’m being racist.

    Why is it OK for you to be racist about being British?

  10. LB

    That’s not what the article says, and it missing the point.

    The article asks

    “And do they therefore impose a disproportionate burden on UK taxpayers?”

    My question is are their migrants who do place a burden? The answer is yes. In which case we have migrants being subsidised by the tax payer.

    Even the choice of disproportionate is an issue. Why disproportionate? Compared to what? Even why accept migrants who are a burden at all.

    “Migrants from outside generally have to pass a “no recourse to public funds” test, and of course skilled migrants and foreign students are pretty unlikely to end up on benefits.”

    So put a test in. No migrants are recourse to public funds. Event the test of benefits isn’t the right question. Its do they pay more tax per migrant (dependents included), than the consume in ALL public resources. The Guardian is being selective in defining public resources as benefits. ie. The police are free. Defence is free. Schooling is free. Pensions are free. …. They aren’t.

    The average spend per person is 11K. You need to average 40K per annum per migrant just to break even.

    The guardian has it wrong when it extrapolates from benefit claims to that must mean all migration is a positive benefit. You can’t make that leap. Back to the easy question. Do we have migrants in the UK paying less than 11K a year in tax? Yes – lots of them. Therefore they are a burden.

    Are all migrants net contributors to the UK. The answer is no. We need to be selective and only allow migrants who are a net benefit.

    Those who aren’t should not be allowed in or to stay.

  11. LB

    Here’s a simple test. Yes or no answer needed from you.

    Is Abu Qatada a net contributor to the UK economy. He is a migrant. You’re claiming he is a net contributor.

    Yes or no. Is he?

  12. LB

    Just to put some numbers to it.

    The government spends 72 bn a year on 62.74 million people

    http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/total for the spending. World bank for the population (google it)

    That works out at 11,508 pounds spend per person. [This ignores any increase in the debts. 2005-2010 that was well over 734 bn a year according to the ONS]

    So go to


    Key in 44,000 pounds as an annual wage. 11,516.64 as NI and tax paid.

    Are those in Starbucks on 44,000? No. So they aren’t paying their way.

    (If you think employer’s NI is a tax paid for by the employee, reduce it to 36,000 per migrant)

    So if you have a dependent, such as a child, then the average spend is much higher. 6K for education. 2K for health, plus a pro rata share of the common goods, police, defense, ….

    Large swathes are not economic and are a burden on others.

    Somewhere between Abu Qatada and Abromovitch [1] is a line. Those paying more tax than they consume aren’t a burden on others. The rest are.

    Even your evidence, that there are migrants on welfare proves the point. They are a burden on others.

    [1] Unless you hate Chelsea.

  13. LB

    Here’s a good example of the Guardian logic.

    [Some migrants are good] so all [migrants are good]

    Notice the simularity with the statement

    [Some blacks commit crimes] so all [blacks are criminals]

    The logic doesn’t work, and you come to bad decisions on the basis of that sort of thinking. It’s no different from the BNP.

  14. Annie

    I think you’ve missed the point. This isn’t about individual migrants, it’s about all migrants taken as a whole. As a whole, migrants contribute more financially to this country than they take out.

  15. LB

    No you miss the point.

    You’re evidence from the link you posted says that there are fewer migrants on benefits that british. That does not mean migrants pay their way.

    To pay their way, they need each pay more tax than they consume. You’re evidence doesn’t not relate to that.

    The next part, migrants are individuals. Hence the question about Abu Qatada. Why haven’t you answered that? Is he or is he not paying his way?

    The point is that migration is optional even under EU law. The freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital was revoked in the case of Cyprus. It’s an optional freedom. The UK can pick and choose which migrants its accepts and which it doesn’t.

    It should just accept migrants that are beneficial to the UK whilst that is the case. Those that aren’t beneficial aren’t welcome.

    However, if they don’t pay enough tax, you could always sponsor one and make up the difference in tax. Nothing stopping you from doing that is there?

  16. Annie

    I don’t think you read the article. Here’s an important extract: “But that doesn’t mean British taxpayers are the losers from migration. Quite the opposite. All the evidence suggests that migrants – especially migrants from the new EU member states – are net contributors to the public purse, not a drain. The most comprehensive study on this topic found that the latter paid in via taxes about 30% more than they cost our public services.”

  17. OldLb

    There is no evidence for that.

    As I keep pointing out, are migrants on benefits a net contributor or not? They are too poor to pay tax, because they are on benefits. They cannot be paying their way.

    At the other end, you have the Abromovitches, or the 100K a week footballers who are.

    The average spend of the UK governement is 11,500 a year.

    The average migrant is not paying 11,500 a year in tax per migrant. For a family of 4, with a non working mother, that is 46,000 a year in tax. You need to be at consultant level to pay that sort of tax, not working in Starbucks.

    You’re article is just comparing percentages of migrants on welfare compared to the UK and it offers up no evidence on the average amount of tax paid per migrant.

    Back to the question you won’t answer.

    Is Abu Qatada an economic benefit to the UK?

    Is Abromovitch an economic benefit to the UK?

  18. OldLb

    Slight typo. The government spends 722 bn on 62.74 million.

    Still, waiting Annie for what Abu Qatada does that’s beneficial for the UK economy.

  19. LB

    Emergency tax – if they over paid – they get a refund. They pay the same rate as others.

    The problem is lots are not paying enough tax to cover their consumption of state services. That means those migrants are a burden.

    Since migrants are optional, why should we pay that subsidy?

Leave a Reply