Election 2024

Enough spare classrooms to meet Labour nursery pledge

Party has said it would spend £140 million converting spare classrooms into nurseries at 3,334 primary schools

Party has said it would spend £140 million converting spare classrooms into nurseries at 3,334 primary schools

Long read

Three in 10 primary schools have a spare classroom, according to a new survey, suggesting that there is enough room for Labour to meet its nurseries pledge.

If they win the general election, Labour has said it would spend £140 million converting spare classrooms into nurseries at 3,334 primary schools. This would equate to around one in five of all primaries taking on a nursery.

While government figures detail the number of spare school places, there is no national dataset showing the number of physical classrooms that sit empty.

A Teacher Tapp survey last week found 29 per cent of staff in state-funded primaries had a spare classroom that was not regularly used for teaching, suggesting there are already more than enough schools able to accommodate Labour’s pledge.

However, there is regional variation, with 37 per cent of staff in London reporting spare rooms compared with 21 per cent in the North-west.

Schools with a more affluent intake were less likely to report spare rooms – 20 per cent compared with 36 per cent with a deprived cohort.

Meanwhile, 31 per cent of staff at large trusts reported spare rooms, compared with just 19 per cent in a small trust. This was 30 per cent for council community schools.

Primary pupil numbers falling

Overall, nearly two-thirds of those polled said they did not have a spare classroom.

Schools Week has previously reported how many primary schools in England play host to nurseries, and more physical space will be freed up in the future due to falling rolls.

Bridget Phillipson
Bridget Phillipson

Primary school numbers have been falling for several years because of a decline in the birth rate following the 2000s baby boom.

Labour said its plan would create 100,000 additional childcare places. The nurseries could be run by the schools themselves, or by local private or voluntary sector nursery providers.

The party said plans to retrofit individual classrooms would cost on average £40,000 each.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that, if Labour’s plans are implemented, it would mean around 27 per cent of childcare places would be in schools, up from 22 per cent last year.

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