Government pledges to provide extra school spaces in Barking and Dagenham

Parliamentary hearing on school places crisis.

Parliamentary hearing on school places crisis. - Credit: Archant

Barking and Dagenham is one of several hotspots the government will target to improve the provision of school places.

National Audit Office statistics, showing that 256,000 extra primary school places are needed in England by 2014, have prompted the new approach.

The Department for Education’s permanent secretary, Chris Wormald, was quizzed on Monday by MP Margaret Hodge about the chronic need for school places in the borough.

Figures show that up to 10,000 extra primary places will be needed in the borough over the next decade.

The parliamentary session, which usually takes place in Westminster, was brought to Barking Town Hall because Mrs Hodge had decided as chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee to show members the problems first hand.

Prior to the meeting, committee members visited Gascoigne Primary School and Barking Abbey Secondary School.

Mrs Hodge said: “In Barking, we have one of the fastest-growing populations in the country and our schools simply cannot cope. We need hundreds of new school places every year and it is one of the biggest concerns raised with me by parents.”

Most Read

Mr Wormald told the committee: “We have invested a considerable amount of money into a lot of hotspots such as you have seen today. We have moved from looking at local authority districts to considering a whole planning area.”

He also said the borough received the third-highest amount of central government funding.

The permanent secretary added: “We have allocated £5billion to be spent on new school places. The cost of a school place is dependant on the decisions taken locally. A local authority could choose cheaper solutions like converting buildings into classrooms and buying land.”

But Great Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell questioned this, saying: “On our visits today, we saw classes which were grossly overcrowded, where roofs were falling down and dripping onto projectors. This borough finds it difficult to maintain buildings, let alone build new classrooms.”