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

Primary schools in London face financial pressures to merge or even close because of dwindling numbers of pupils caused by a falling birthrate, Brexit and the Covid-era flight from cities, councils in the capital have warned.

A report by London Councils – the cross-party group representing local authorities around the capital – found that 29 of its 32 members are expecting a sharp fall in the numbers of children entering reception classes until 2026-27.

“London local authorities and schools are currently dealing with a significant and sustained period of reduction in demand for reception places, which has implications for school budgets and standards,” the report states.

The forecast is that the number of four- and five-year-olds starting in state primary schools will drop from 96,000 last September to 89,000 in 2026 – a fall of 7%.

Falling birthrates are said to be the main cause of the shrinking numbers. Between 2012 and 2021 there has been a 17% decrease in the city’s birthrate, accounting for 23,000 fewer babies.

But the report said there were “other key factors at play”, including the aftermath of Brexit and Covid.

“The boroughs have reported to us that they have experienced shifts in their local child population since the right of entry and freedom of movement has been withdrawn from EU nationals and as a result of families leaving London during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the report said.

Ian Edwards, London Councils executive member for children and young people, said: “Schools are having to make very difficult decisions about how to balance budgets as a result of this drop in school places and local authorities will support them through this process.”

The report wants government funding to keep pace with inflation to help schools manage swings in pupil numbers, and that councils be given powers over the number of pupils that academies can admit, as well as improving support so more children with special needs can attend mainstream schools.

Some losses have been counteracted by new housing developments or “high numbers of families arriving from overseas,” particularly from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine. “However, this growth can be transient and hard to forecast in the long term,” the report said.

The drop comes after several years of stagnant or falling school rolls in inner London boroughs such as Islington and Camden.

But the report sees the reductions spreading to other boroughs, with Lambeth seeing a 15% drop in applications, followed by Hillingdon, Ealing and Enfield. Waltham Forest and Richmond are the only areas forecasting substantial growth to 2026.


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Primary schools in England record steep fall in demand
Covid disruption and Brexit could be behind fall in applications for reception class places, say councils

Richard Adams Education editor

16, Apr, 2021 @4:36 PM

Article image
Drop in London primary applications puts future of some schools at risk
Demand for reception class places fell by 2.7% this year, prompting fears some institutions may be forced to merge or close

Sally Weale Education correspondent

17, Apr, 2023 @4:07 PM

Article image
Headteachers forced to do menial tasks at unfilled rural schools
Some heads in England say they also do gardening and cleaning in schools to cut costs

Sally Weale Education correspondent

11, Oct, 2018 @11:01 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
More than 90 English primary schools to close or face closure for lack of pupils
Guardian analysis lays bare effect of dwindling pupil numbers and associated funding amid rising housing and childcare costs

Carmen Aguilar García and Heather Stewart

29, May, 2023 @11:34 AM

Article image
England tutor scheme closing tuition gap between rich and poor, data shows
Sutton Trust calls on government not to cut post-Covid funding as figures show 37% of children in poor homes had tutoring

Richard Adams, Education editor

09, Mar, 2023 @6:00 AM

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

Report reveals shortage of 2,250 places in primary schools for September, rising to over 5,000 next year

Polly Curtis and Jessica Shepherd

19, Apr, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Thousands miss out on first-choice primary school
Labour says academies plan will make situation worse, after one in six families in some areas fail to secure place at preferred primary

Sally Weale Education correspondent

18, Apr, 2016 @6:57 PM

Parental choice on primary schools 'increases social divide'
Poor parents pick child's school because it is close to home, while middle-class parents go on good academic record

Jessica Shepherd

20, Nov, 2009 @6:56 PM

Article image
London to offer free school meals to all primary pupils for a year
Exclusive: Sadiq Khan’s plan, spurred by ministers’ ‘failure to act’, will save families about £440 for every child

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

19, Feb, 2023 @7:57 PM