London exodus leaves schools short of pupils

Schools across London are facing budget cuts and potential closures as the pandemic and Britain’s exit from the European Union hastened a decline in student numbers already under pressure from low birth rates.

Mixture of immigrants from the European Union back To their countries of origin and families leaving the capital, made less attractive by the coronavirus lockdowns, undermine the school funding model, which depends on the number of students.

The number of students in state-funded primary schools in England in the school year starting in September 2020 fell for the first time since 2010, down 0.3 per cent year on year.

But detailed admissions data obtained by London’s Financial Times suggests the capital is experiencing steeper declines, with a 6.7 per cent annual decline in primary school applications in September by the January deadline across the board. across the city.

This equates to 6,546 fewer children than children enrolled in the capital’s reception classes in September, leading to a potential funding cut of £34m according to Councils of London, the umbrella body representing local authorities in the capital.

The number of students in state-funded primary schools in England fell in the academic year starting in September 2020 for the first time since 2010 © Dominic Lipinski/PA

Data from two other English cities suggest that the drop in student numbers for the next academic year is not limited to London.

Figures from Birmingham City Council show a 9.5 per cent annual decline for reception venues in September, while the figure in Bristol was 6.8 percent.

Birmingham Council noted a gradual decline in the birth rate, but said there was “early evidence” that the drop in applications was “mainly due to a decline in net migration to the city”. Bristol declined to comment on the drop in orders.

A breakdown of the capital data, from the All-London Admissions Board, showed a twofold drop in some areas. All 32 boroughs recorded a decrease in the number of applications, with the City of London, by far the smallest local authority, with the exception.

Councils of London said in a statement they expected low birth rates to start affecting student numbers, but did not expect a sharp drop next year.

She blamed the drop in applications in part on EU citizens back home after Brexit. She also said the “double whammy” of back-to-back coronavirus and government shutdowns holiday stamp duty This led to families leaving the capital.

“Although we don’t know the size of the recent drop, we do know it is fairly real,” the London councils said. “All of this has an impact in terms of school funding . . . if the school is not able to fill a semester, then they will need to consider reducing staffing and other costs.”

The north London area of ​​Haringey was the hardest hit, with orders down 14.1 per cent year on year, followed by Enfield with 13.5 per cent and 10.2 per cent declines in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Most boards contacted by the Financial Times blamed part of the decline on low birth rates: Camden, for example, has seen a 20 percent drop since 2012.

Haringey also noted “a clear exodus from London of families with children as a result of the Covid pandemic.” Hammersmith declined to comment further and Enfield did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Carleton Primary School in Camden set to close © Anna Gordon / FT

The drop in student numbers has left some schools in an unsustainable financial position. Consultations are underway on the future of St Mary Magdalene Primary School in Lewisham, while Carleton Primary School in Camden and Chapela and St. Matthias Primary School in Tower Hamlets are set to close this year.

“Unfilled school spaces have an immediate cost to schools by reducing their budgets,” Lewisham said.

Besides declining births, Camden Council blamed London’s high cost of living and said it was working with schools to tackle “significant funding challenges”.

Tower Hamlets said there are “multiple factors” affecting the numbers. “As a responsible local authority, we conduct regular reviews of school premises locally in response to population change,” she said.

Even in the least affected neighborhoods, declining numbers of new students will affect budgets. Ed Davey, a cabinet member for children and young people in Lambeth, where applications for primary school enrollments are down 3.6 percent from last year, said only about 86 percent of places were filled in September.

This could mean a reduction in funding that could force school administrators to cut costs and staff, including teaching assistants and cleaners. “Running a class of 23 classes costs the same as running a class of 30,” he said.

London councils said late applications could make up for some of the lapses before the start of the new school year, although most councils in London contacted by the Financial Times said the numbers had not changed. But the umbrella body warned that the longer-term trend of lower numbers could mean many neighborhoods are still facing funding pressures.

In Hackney, for example, the 12.6 percent year-on-year decline in primary school applications reported in January data fell to just 1.5 percent as a result of late applications, the council said.

But last school year, 14.4 percent of reception places in the town were vacant and in two districts reception classes were less than 75 percent, according to council documents.

The documents show that the council has pledged to “reduce” school closures and consolidate classes during the pandemic, but warns that a surplus of places means it is “willing to consider and take these measures in the near future.”

Hackney Deputy Mayor Antoinette Bramble © Isabel Infantes / Empics / PA

Antoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney, said school funding has been hit by pupil numbers falling to 2010 levels and government cutbacks.

“The impact of declining student rolls on school budgets has been compounded by a 9 percent reduction in real terms of government funding per student since 2010,” she said. “We are working closely with schools to address this budget challenge.”

The government said it was working with local authorities “to support them in their planning to ensure that the supply of school spaces complies with this demand.”

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