London boroughs are supporting local schools as the decline in the child population continues to impact school places across the capital, a new report by London Councils shows. London boroughs are forecasting a drop in demand of 7,904 places across reception and Year 7 between 23/24 and 27/28.
Local authorities have an important role in supporting the education system and are working hard to minimise the impact of fewer pupils on school budgets and children’s attainment across London.
This latest report shows a predicted decrease of 4.4% in reception pupil numbers over the next four years. This translates to 3,864 places which is roughly equivalent to a drop of 128 reception classes.
It also predicts a drop of demand of 4.3% for pupils beginning secondary school. The decrease for pupils entering Year 7 translates to 4,040 places, roughly equivalent to 134 classes.
This new insight follows a tough year for schools across London. The report says the drop in demand is unlikely to reverse and will worsen in many areas. This means there is the potential for greater reductions in pupil numbers in schools and the threat of further school closures in coming years.
London’s birth rate is the main reason for the decrease in demand for school places. Between 2012-2021 there has been a 17% decrease of the birth rate in London, which is a reduction of 23,225 live births across the capital. It is not unusual for London’s birth rate to fluctuate, however it is having, and will continue to have, an impact on demand for school places which schools, boroughs and the DfE will need to manage.
There are further factors which affect the number of applications for school places in London. For the last few years, boroughs have also experienced shifts in their local child population as a result of families leaving London for example due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and cost of living crisis.
As a result of the reduction in school places having an impact on the amount of funding a school receives, schools will have to make further difficult decisions to balance their budgets. This could mean narrowing the curriculum, offering fewer after school clubs or reducing the number of teaching and support staff. In some cases, school leaders and local authority leaders will have to make difficult decisions to merge or close schools.
Boroughs are working closely with schools across London, with Government and with education services to share best practice and minimise the impact of the reduction in demand for school places.
The report from London Councils highlights that Government must ensure school funding levels keep up with inflation, which will help schools to be more resilient in the face of changing demand patterns.
London boroughs want to work with Government as well as schools and other education partners to tackle this challenge at a local level to minimise disruption to children. It is vital that local authorities are able to work with all local schools, including academies, in the interests of local children. Where appropriate local authorities should be able to direct academies to reduce pupil numbers, as they do with maintained schools where there is clear evidence locally of a significant drop in demand and a need to act to ensure that a school remains financially viable.
Cllr Ian Edwards, London Councils Executive Member for Children and Young People, said:
“London boroughs are seeing a significant reduction in the number of pupils beginning primary and secondary education, which has major implications for the future of schools across the capital.
“This report comes at a time when unfortunately some of our schools and local authorities are negotiating a complex balancing act. The drop in demand for places means schools face extremely difficult decisions over how to balance their budgets.
“London has some of the best schools in the country, with over 90% of all our schools being rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. We are working diligently to ensure that this level of high-quality education is accessible for all children entering schools in the coming years and allow our schools to thrive despite this difficult climate.
“London Councils will work closely with key education partners in London including government, to mitigate the impact of this drop in demand for school places on school budgets and children’s achievement."
Notes to editors:
- To view the report in full, please visit the London Councils website.