Planning school places should be easier than predicting teacher numbers, since once a child is born it is going to need at least 11 years of schooling. Taking into account those taught at home and in the private sector, the state is still going to have to educate the vast majority of young people of school age.
But after years of decline, the birth rate has reversed direction and started to increase. Add to this a recession and a housing market with the lowest levels of turnover for many years, and replacing worn-out secondary schools before ensuring there are enough primary and nursery places seems like a misuse of scarce capital resources.
The figures shows eight authorities - Darlington, Bolton, Luton, Slough, Haringey, Kingston-upon-Thames, Newham and Sutton - which have no primary schools with 25 per cent or more surplus places. Compare this with urban South Tyneside and rural Rutland, where about 40 per cent of primary schools have more than a quarter of their places empty.
Generally, the pressure on places is greater in the South, and especially in parts of London. This may be why the recent education white paper singled out Enfield in north London as an area where schools are bursting at the seams, although it failed to recognise the range of steps the local authority has taken to deal with it. Instead, the white paper focused on a deal with an academy and efforts to create a free school as the way to meet the shortfall in places.
The question is, who will have responsibility - in a world of academies and free schools - for ensuring that every child is guaranteed a place in a school?
Of course, this is not a new problem. In 1952, there were not enough places at the local Church of England primary school to offer me a place as one of the many children of the post-war bulge, so I ended up at the local council school. But if any child who should have started school in September is still waiting for a place, this would be as much of a disgrace as the teacher shortages of yesteryear.
John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.
Percentage of primary schools with 25 per cent or more surplus places*
* minimum of 30 places (May 2010)
South West: 13.5%
South East: 11.4%
West Midlands: 12.0%
East of England: 13.6%
East Midlands: 15.5%
North West: 12.9%
Yorkshire and Humber: 13.8%
North East: 20.3%.