Baby boom and credit crunch brings shortage of primary school places in London

• Secondary schools will soon face similar problems
• Effects will spread across country, heads warn

Councils in London are reporting an urgent shortage of primary school places prompted by a baby boom and fuelled by parents opting for their local schools due to the credit crunch.

The tradition of families fleeing the capital as their children reach school age has all but ended because of the freeze in the housing market, and more parents are choosing state schools over the private sector, research shows.

Councils in the capital have compiled a report that reveals a shortage of 2,250 places for September, rising to over 5,000 next year, and have already been forced to provide temporary buildings and expand class sizes. Some 25 of the 33 London boroughs face a shortage of places, which they warn will grow to 18,300 by 2014.

Headteacher leaders said the effects of a baby boom since 2001, combined with the recession forcing parents to make different choices about their child's schooling, would have consequences beyond the capital and into secondary schools as well.

London Councils, which campaigns on behalf of the capital's boroughs, is warning that they may not be able to accommodate all pupils in September.

James Kempton, leader of Islington council, said: "The size of the problem is severe. Boroughs are doing their best with temporary classrooms, putting more than 30 pupils in classrooms with extra staff. Contingency plans are as good as we can get them but we can't guarantee they will cover every child.

"The pressures were there last September and we've managed them. They are not going to go away and it becomes progressively harder. If we don't start building now we won't be able to do anything for September 2010. It's not something councils can cope with on their own. We need help from government."

The London Councils report says the shortages are the result of a national baby boom since 2001, which has been most acute in the capital. London has seen a 20.5% increase in the birth rate in seven years, outstripping the national average increase of 16.8%. Between 2001 and 2007, Barking & Dagenham experienced a birth rate increase of 40%, Greenwich 36%, Hounslow 29% and Sutton 28%.

In the 25 authorities reporting shortages the majority need between seven and 13 additional new forms to accommodate demand. However, one borough - unnamed in the report - forecasts the need for a 25 additional classes.

The report also blames the economic downturn. "This has meant that fewer parents are opting to place their children in independent schools, which increases pressure on the state sector. The downturn in the property market means that fewer families are moving to areas outside the capital," it says.

Councillors are lobbying for £740m to fund new buildings to provide extra places. Kempton added that demand was also rising as the quality of primary schools improves.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It's to be expected and I imagine there will be the same pressures on secondary school places. It's been widely reported that children are dropping out of private secondaries and the impact will be felt elsewhere."

Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, said her area had a waiting list of 100 children who have still not been allocated places for September. "Education is a fundamental right. It causes huge stress to parents in Brent to be told their child can't go to school at the moment because they're full. This is London, for heaven's sake, not a small rural town in a third world country. It is a scandal that the government won't put enough money into the system to fund primary school places for every child."

A spokesman forthe Department for Schools, Children and Families said: "Local authorities are under a duty to make sure that every child of compulsory school age has a suitable school place.

"Schools in England have had a seven-fold rise in funding for building and renovating from just £700m a year to over £7bn now. Unprecedented funding increases to schools are addressing decades of underinvestment to drive up standards.

"We have already agreed and allocated funding for schools for the 2008-11 period based on pupil projections by local authorities, but London Councils are looking into whether these projections were accurate. We will read their research with interest and take it into account in future decisions about school funding."


Polly Curtis and Jessica Shepherd

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Baby boom sparks record shortage of primary school places
Hundreds of extra primary school places are needed in highly-populated parts of England, Guardian poll of councils reveals

Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent

08, Apr, 2011 @5:11 PM

Article image
Families still struggle to find primary school places in English cities
Number of first-choice offers for September falls in London, Manchester and Birmingham

Richard Adams Education editor

16, Apr, 2019 @5:57 PM

Article image
Primary school places in England 'near breaking point'
Parents forced to juggle long commutes or split siblings between schools as supply fails to keep up with demand, say headteachers

Richard Adams Education editor

15, Apr, 2015 @4:23 PM

Article image
Primary-school class sizes in England surge as effects of baby boom are felt
Education department's school census shows 2,299 classes of five to seven-year-olds were above official guideline of 30 pupils

Richard Adams, Education editor

21, Jun, 2013 @8:46 PM

Article image
Primary school places squeezed due to baby boom – weekly news review
Fewer families get their first choice of primary school, Atlanta teachers jailed for cheating, and teaching about sexual abuse could help students report offenders

Sarah Marsh

17, Apr, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
Squeeze on secondary school places in England now worse than for primaries
Pressure on school spaces is worst in London, Department for Education figures reveal, with fewer than 60% of first preferences allocated in several boroughs

Richard Adams Education editor

16, Jun, 2015 @5:05 PM

Article image
Primary schools in London ‘may need to merge or close’ as intakes dwindle
Report by London Councils says falling birthrate, Brexit and Covid-era flight from cities causing sharp fall in pupil numbers

Richard Adams Education editor

12, Jan, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Class war in English villages as lack of primary school places hits families
Even in a village with three primaries, some children may have to travel miles to other schools when they start in September

Richard Adams and Sian Elvin

17, Apr, 2014 @7:45 PM

Article image
More children get chosen primary school
Over 80% of children get place at first-choice school, despite worries that baby boom would mean greater competition

Richard Adams

17, Apr, 2013 @7:38 PM

Councils face shortage of primary school places, says LGA
Some towns could have as many as 75% more pupils than primary school places, based on current figures

Richard Adams, education editor

03, Sep, 2013 @6:12 PM