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News archive - March/April 2018

Bulge in pupil numbers threatens to overwhelm schools

Bulge in pupil numbers threatens to overwhelm schools

Pressure on school places is continuing to rise, with an extra 79,000 primary places and 87,000 secondary places needed across England to meet demand for 2021/22.

According to new figures from the Department for Education, one in six of England’s secondaries (548 schools) are full or over capacity, a slight increase since 2016, when the figure was one in seven (487). In pupil numbers, that equates to just over secondary 24,000 pupils in excess of capacity in 2017, a sizable increase compared to around 20,000 pupils for 2014-16.

The number of primary schools that are at or over capacity increased from 22.5 per cent (3,781 schools) in May 2016 to 22.8 per cent (3,826 schools) in May 2017. In pupil numbers, there were 30,000 primary pupils in excess of capacity.

Despite the rise, the number of primary schools that are at or over capacity has remained relatively stable since 2015, following a long term increase.

Local authority forecasts suggest primary pupil numbers may begin to plateau beyond 2020/21. Secondary pupil numbers are forecast to continue to rise as the increase seen in primary pupil numbers arrives in the secondary phase.

Between 2016 and 2017, there has been a net increase of 66,000 primary places and 23,000 secondary places. Combined with all the changes in previous years, there has been a net increase of 825,000 additional places since 2010, consisting of 577,000 primary places, and 248,000 secondary places.

The DfE’s figures show that over the past seven years, the number of pupils in excess of capacity has decreased from 97,000 in 2010 to 54,000 in 2017. However, compared to 2016, the 2017 figures indicate a rise of 4,000. However, points out the DfE, this is less than the 56,000 secondary pupils in excess of capacity reported in 2010.

School leaders are warning that it is “absolutely crucial” that there is accurate planning over the next few years to ensure there are enough school places, in the areas they are needed.

The latest Government data shows that in 2016/17, the last year for which actual figures are available, there were 3,135,534 pupils of secondary school age in England.

This is forecast to rise to 3,800,004 by 2023/24 – meaning there will be an extra 664,470 secondary-age pupils by this point, compared to 2016/17.

School system minister Lord Agnew said: “Today’s statistics show that since 2010, we have created 825,000 new school places and 90,000 in the last year alone.

“We want to continue to ensure every child is offered a world-class education, wherever they are growing up and that’s why we are investing £5.8 billion to create even more good school places in the future.”

Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, told the Press Association: “Secondary school places are becoming increasingly squeezed, with more families facing growing uncertainty when trying to secure their child’s place. If we’re to meet the demand for school places then councils should be given back the powers to open new maintained schools and existing academy schools should expand where required.”