England’s school population is set to shrink by almost a million children over the next 10 years, according to the government’s latest data, raising the prospect of surplus places and school closures in some areas of the country in the years ahead.
Department for Education figures reveal that predicted pupil numbers, already in marked decline according to earlier modelling, have had to be revised down further in line with projections of fewer births than had been expected.
The data, published on Thursday, anticipates a 12% decline in pupil numbers over the next 10 years, with the entire school population expected to fall from its current level of 7,859,000 this year to 6,915,000 by 2032.
The national pupil projections are published annually and just last year the government predicted that 7,269,000 pupils would be in the education system by 2032. But a further 354,000 have been taken off the latest projections this year.
For schools whose budgets are already squeezed by rising costs, the fall in rolls will make life harder because school funding is based on headcount and fewer pupils will mean less money.
Primary schools in some areas of London, which had a huge expansion in pupil numbers at the start of the century, are already seeing a significant decline in numbers, determined not only by the falling birth rate but also by the impact of Brexit and the pandemic, which prompted some families to move out of the capital.
In Hackney, London, for example, there was a surplus of about 500 new primary school places last year, a situation which will be replicated across the capital. Those surpluses at primary level will start to affect secondary schools as the current population bulge moves on in to further and higher education and beyond.
According to the DfE, predictions have had to be revised downwards because of notably lower birth projections in the mid 2020s, according to ONS national population projections being used for the first time in this set of data.
Primary and nursery school pupils peaked in 2019 and the figures have been dropping since then. The overall population in state-funded nursery and primary schools is projected to be 4,065,000 in 2028 – 532,000 fewer than the current total of 4,597,000.
The DfE says a large drop in 2021 may have been connected in part to the pandemic, with parents choosing to home school during the reception year.
The secondary school population, meanwhile, is projected to peak in 2024 – up from the current total of 3,126,000 to 3,230,000 – but then be followed by a gradual decline.
July 14, 2022 at 09:10PM Sally Weale Education correspondent