Achieving Fair and Responsive School Place Planning: Reviewing the National Framework and Empowering Local Authorities

According to government figures, 418,000 secondary school places will be needed in England alone by 2027 in order to meet the 14.7% rise in pupil population. This growth in the school-age population has put extreme pressure on local authorities to find sufficient places for children, particularly in the wake of Covid-19, as local authorities struggle with rising demand and decreasing budgets. In 2020, the Local Government Association (LGA) found that up to a third of local areas in England were at risk of being oversubscribed for secondary school places within the following five years, threatening to leave almost 80,000 young people and their families without a place. However, some areas, have also seen a fall in demand for school places as rising living costs force many families to relocate to less expensive areas, state schools in Westminster reporting spare capacity of 22%.

The responsibility for ensuring that there are sufficient school places in each area falls to the relevant local authority, however councils have no powers to open new maintained schools or to compel academies or free schools to expand to meet demand. In February 2021, the Government announced that local authorities would be provided with just under £500 million in order to provide school places for September 2023. Over the last ten years, school places have also been created through the introduction of free schools, schools that are funded by the government but are not under the control of the local authority. In December 2020, 557 free schools had been created, out of a total 24,000 schools. The Government has also drawn attention to the increase in proportion of schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, rising from 67% in 2010 to 86% in March 2021.

However, many have argued that more needs to be done to ensure that each child has the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) have called for the Government to adopt a coherent national strategy to tackle this issue, raising awareness of those children who are forced to travel significant distances to attend schools or who have been separated from their peers as a result of insufficient school places. Similarly, as shown by the Education Policy Institute’s analysis of admissions data in 2019, there are noticeable disparities in first choice offers, not only across the country, but also between white British families and black, Asian and minority ethnic families, the former being more likely to receive an offer from their first choice school. Additionally, to better meet demand, the LGA has called on the Government to give councils the powers to open new maintained schools, alongside backstop powers to force academies to expand to meet local demand.

This symposium provides policymakers, local authorities, education professionals and other key stakeholders with a unique opportunity to understand changing demand for school places and to develop strategies for national and local school place planning. The event will enable stakeholders to generate a collaborative approach to ensuring every child receives a quality education. 


  • Evaluate existing trends in school place applications and determine the preparedness of schools across the country
  • Improve pupil forecasting practices and strategise effective school place planning in response to national demographic trends
  • Develop a better understanding of the unique challenges of school place planning across different regions
  • Plan and implement strategies to enhance coordination and communication between central government, local authorities, schools and investors
  • Discuss the impact of challenges in local government funding on school place planning
  • Promote collaboration between local institutions and authorities to develop strategies for local school place planning
  • Review the Academies Act 2010 and consider areas for potential reform
  • Assess the current National Funding Formula and determine measures for overcoming budgetary challenges
  • Explore how academies and faith schools can formulate clear and simple admissions policies which uphold fairness
  • Identify new legislative priorities to ensure school admissions policies are policed and enforced effectively
  • Determine strategies for ensuring children with special educational needs and disabilities receive a high quality inclusive education
  • Identify potential avenues for public-private partnerships as an alternative method of alleviating oversubscribed schools

To register for the briefing, please click here.