Squeeze more cash for schools out of housing developers, DfE tells councils

Councils have been issued with new guidance to help them negotiate financial contributions from housing developers when their work puts pressure on schools.

New advice from the Department for Education today sets out how local authorities can best seek funding both for construction of more school space and suitable land from developers.

Town halls are under rising pressure to create more school places as a population bulge makes its way from primary and secondary. Secondary schools will have to cater for more than 400,000 extra pupils by 2027.

Councils have the power to demand a financial or land contribution for schools from housing developers under the community infrastructure levy, which replaced old section 106 payments.

However, the DfE is worried that the way councils ask for the funding is “inconsistent” across the country.

Schools Week  has previously revealed problems with coordination of new buildings when contributions are collected by district councils, which often act as the planning authority, rather than county councils, which are in charge of schools.

In a statement issued today, the academies minister Lord Agnew said it was “vital” that developers contribute to the cost of the school places they create.

Schools can find themselves “under pressure from new housing developments, and where they do it’s right that appropriate developers support these costs”, he added.

The new guidance will, ministers hope, ensure local authorities can clearly state the situation with school places in the area, so the “right contributions” from developers are secured during the planning process, said the DfE.

In some instances, public funding for the school buildings might be used but “only to the minimum extent necessary”, the DfE warned.

In other cases, developers might build the schools themselves rather than contributing money to councils. New schools will need to be built at the right time so places are available to pupils who need them, the department added.

Land for schools is also often an afterthought. In 2016, a lack of suitable land delayed the opening of new schools in housing developments in Suffolk by a year.

A £6 million scheme announced in 2017 to build 100,000 new homes through “garden villages” schemes in areas of need did not specify how much money or land would be given over to schools.

Luke Tryl, director of New Schools Network, which supports the establishment of new free schools, said he hoped the new guidance would “minimise the amount of time schools planned as part of housing developments spend in the pre-opening phase, while land acquisition and access are negotiated”.