Schools at risk of closure as pupil numbers rapidly falling, think tank says

Schools in South London are at risk of losing millions of pounds in funding and could be forced to close by 2030 if pupil numbers continue to fall, a think tank has said.

Research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) suggests Lambeth and Lewisham are likely to be hit hardest by falling pupil numbers, compared to the rest of the country.

The report said Lambeth is projected to see England’s largest percentage drop in pupil numbers at primary level – a loss of 24.5 per cent – and secondary level – 18 per cent, between the school years 2022-23 and 2028-29.

Lewisham came second behind Lambeth with a predicted 12.3 per cent drop in pupils at secondary level. Southwark also had a high predicted fall of 9.7 per cent.

Researchers used the think tank’s own school funding model to analyse the potential impact on school funding.

Lambeth was identified as the borough with the largest potential decrease in funding, with 21.2 per cent at primary and 15.7 per cent at secondary level.

Specifically in Streatham, EPI researchers estimated a 21.3 per cent decrease in funding at primary level and a 15.8 per cent drop at secondary level. 

On the other end of the scale, South West Bedfordshire is projected to have the largest increase in funding, with 13.4 per cent at primary and 17.8 per cent at secondary. 

The research follows analysis by London Councils in January that shows demand for school places in the capital is set to plummet.

The cross-party body warned last year factors affecting pupil numbers included a 17 per cent decrease in the birth rate, rising rents and house prices, and the cost of living.

Some south London schools have already felt the effects of falling pupil numbers.

In February, St Jude’s School in Colnbrook Street, Elephant and Castle, announced it would be closing down its site to merge with Charlotte Sharman School in St George’s Street, Elephant and Castle, after suffering from falling enrolment across the past three years.

The EPI report concluded: “The school system in England faces significant falls in pupil numbers over the next decade following a fall in the birth rate. 

“It is likely that school costs will not fall at the same rate as funding. For example, if a class reduces from 30 to 25 pupils the cost of a teacher remains the same.

“This is likely to have implications for the financial viability of schools which may face amalgamation or even closure.”

A spokeswoman from the Department of Education described the figures as “speculative” and said funding levels beyond 2024/25 have not yet been confirmed.

She said: “We are increasing school funding to £60.7billion next year, the highest level ever in real terms per pupil.

“Every school will receive a per pupil increase in funding, and the National Funding Formula (NFF) makes sure that funding is distributed fairly based on the needs of each school and their pupils.

 “It is for local authorities and academy trusts to balance the supply and demand of school places, in line with changing demographics, as they have done for many years.”

(Picture: Pixabay/Alicja)

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