Ministers are considering installing solar panels on disused school land to help them generate their own electricity.
Academies minister Baroness Barran told the Schools and Academies Show today her department was “trying… to maximise the value when schools have significant excess land”.
She said the Department for Education was “doing some work to see whether we could use some space for solar panels so that schools could generate their own electricity”.
Officials are also looking into building affordable housing on sites with excess land, which would raise money and “provide much-needed housing”.
Schools Week revealed last year how the DfE was reviewing hundreds of school sites to find land suitable to be sold for housing.
Documents seen by this newspaper show LocatEd, the government-owned company set up to buy and develop land for free schools, last year “received a commission to review 316 sites” for so-called “underutilised” or “surplus” land.
No plans for ‘significant’ school closures
Asked about the expected drop in pupil numbers nationally, Barran said there were no plans currently for “significant school closures”.
“There has been quite a lot of discussion and some pressure that we should close schools because of the change in pupil numbers,” she said.
“And I think that there’s a real caution about that because when we came into government in 2010, we inherited a period where school places were being closed. We then had to build places for a million children. That was an extremely expensive thing to do.”
Fewer pupils in less than ‘good’ schools
Barran said the pipeline of schools wanting to convert and become academies “is particuarly strong” and there is “greater interest than there has been for many years”.
She said one progress measure the government used for its reforms was the number of children who were in an ‘inadequate’ school or a setting rated ‘requires improvement’ twice.
“When we started measuring this was September two years ago and we said we wanted to try and bring the figures down by 200,000 children over a two year period,” she said
“In the last year, the figure has actually fallen by 114,000 so, touching every piece of wood in sight, we are slightly ahead of where we thought we would be.”
She said the number of children in these poorly-graded schools now stood at 567,000 “and that is obviously a combination of the work of those of you in schools who helped turn those schools around, of trusts that have come in as sponsors of those schools and everyone in the workforce who has made that happen”.