London’s falling rolls crisis moves into secondary schools

Capital faces steep drop in year 7 pupils over the next four years, says London Councils report

Capital faces steep drop in year 7 pupils over the next four years, says London Councils report

A falling rolls crisis that has forced London councils to consider closing and merging primary schools is making its way into the secondary phase, a new report has warned.

Research by London Councils found the capital’s secondary schools could have 4,000 fewer pupils joining in the next four years, equating to 134 classes and a 4.3 per cent drop in demand for year 7 places between 2024 and 2027.

Last year, the predicted drop was 3.5 per cent. Over the same period, secondary pupil numbers nationally are only due to fall by just 0.77 per cent.

The problems in some boroughs are more severe than others. One area faces a 12.8 per cent drop in year 7 pupils, while another will see an 8.9 per cent rise.

Inner London would be hardest hit by falling secondary rolls, with a 6.7 per cent drop compared to 3.4 per cent in outer London. 

falling rolls data for london
Source London Councils analysis of SCAP returns

The number of primary pupils across England have been falling for several years, as a population bulge caused by the 2000s baby boom makes its way through the school system.

But London has faced more severe demographic change, exacerbated by emigration of families from the capital in response to housing costs, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has prompted councils to announce plans to close and merge schools and demanded powers to direct academies to reduce their rolls.

‘Major implications’

Ian Edwards, London Council’s children lead, said the changing demographics had “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 Councils analysed the 2023 school capacity survey (SCAP) returns for mainstream schools in all 32 boroughs. 

Their research shows the drop in primary numbers is slowing. They predict average 4.4 per cent drop at reception over the coming four years, translating to 3,864 places or 128 reception classes.

Overall, this has improved from the predicted 7.3 drop in the 2022 SCAP returns, but the groups said there are significant local variations and it was too early to identify any change in trends. 

If four areas with predicted growth are excluded, the fall drops to 5.9 per cent. Seven boroughs expect more than a 10 per cent decrease. 

London Councils’ recommendations include reviewing the funding model for schools with falling rolls and ensuring academies are part of local school place planning. 

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