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Warning primary schools face ‘catastrophic’ wave of closures: Fears plummeting Covid birth rate and increase in homeschooling could see surge in shutdowns with as little as six pupils registered in a year – as more than 90% of parents get first choice


Britain’s plummeting birth rate is threating to trigger a ‘catastrophic’ meltdown of the nation’s education system, with fears shrinking class sizes could spark a tsunami of  primary school closures. 

Figures show number of children born in England and Wales has fallen to a record low, with campaigners blaming a combination of the Covid pandemic and rising cost of living for the drop. 

Meanwhile, more parents are opting to homeschool their children amid worries over their kids’ mental health, with the latest figures showing 126,000 were taught at home between 2022-23, a surge of 12.6 per cent from 116,000 the previous year. 

The sweeping changes to Britain’s schooling landscape have led to classroom sizes shrinking, with at least one primary school in London – where the problem is most acute – now facing closure after just six new pupils registered to join reception. 

It comes as the capital continues to struggle with an exodus of families and a falling birth rate, with 8,000 fewer children predicted to go to school in the next four years.

A report into also found that by 2027 there will be more than 3,800 fewer children going into the first year of primary school in the capital – the equivalent of 134 reception classes.

The news comes amid prediction the number of pupils at primary schools in the UK will slump from a high of more than 4.7million in 2019 to 4.06million in five years time

Hundreds of primary schools could be forced to close by the end of the decade because of a dramatic fall in the number of births (File image)

Hundreds of primary schools could be forced to close by the end of the decade because of a dramatic fall in the number of births (File image)

But the decline is not just limited to London, with hundreds of primary schools across England and Wales at risk of being forced to close due to the falling birth rates

In Hackney, north east London, four primaries will be shutting this summer ‘due to a significant decline in the number of school-aged children’. 

Meanwhile in nearby Islington, in the north of the city, the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School will also be axed due to the crisis – despite being rated as ‘Good’ by education watchdog, Ofsted.

The school has space for 210 children but only 76 are registered – less than half. The figures are worse in its reception, which has just six youngsters in a class of potentially 30. 

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has now warned the shocking drop in Britain’s birth rate risks putting schools out of business – amid fears English schools could lose £1bn by 2030 as pupil numbers continue to fall.

The dire prediction comes after thousands of families found out whether their three and four-year-olds had received their preferred school this week – with more than 90 per cent bagging their first choices. 

In a damning statement earlier this month, the EPI said the slump in numbers would see cash-strapped schools losing out on £1bn of government funding over the next five years, because they have fewer pupils in them.

Five London boroughs are expecting to see the total number of students in their schools plunge by at least seven per cent by 2027

Five London boroughs are expecting to see the total number of students in their schools plunge by at least seven per cent by 2027

The number of reception students is set to plunge to below 85,000 in the next couple of years

The number of reception students is set to plunge to below 85,000 in the next couple of years

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Schools are already strapped for cash – and even with a dip in pupil numbers, any further cuts to funding would be a catastrophe for our children.’

Projections by the think-tank suggest pupil numbers fell by 818,000 between 2022-23 and 2032-33, following a national birth-rate slump.

The number of children in primary classrooms has been dropping from a peak of 4.7 million five years ago. EPI forecasts show it will drop to 4.06 million in 2028-29.

Secondary numbers will also tumble ‘at an increasingly faster rate’ over the next five years.

A recent study by the Guardian found 88 primary schools in England were more than two-thirds empty last year, leaving them in danger of closure. 

It comes as official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the nation’s fertility rate had plunged to its lowest level since records began in 1939.

Campaigners have warned that ‘procreation has become a luxury item’ is driving the decline – amid fears parents can no longer afford to have a child. 

ONS data showed ‘total fertility’, calculated based on the birthrate across different age groups, fell to 1.49 children per woman in 2022.

That is well below the rate of 2.1 needed to maintain a steady population without significant immigration.

The population of young children is expected to plummet by more than half a million by 2030 – the equivalent of 17,000 classes or 1,800 schools – the latest data analysis has suggested.

A baby boom in the early 2000s, partially fuelled by migration, fizzled out and births began to decline from 2012.

There were 605,479 live births in England and Wales in 2022, nearly 125,000 fewer than a decade earlier, and this downward trend is expected to continue.

The Education Policy Institute has warned the drop in Britain's birth rate risks putting schools up and down the country out of business (stock image)

The Education Policy Institute has warned the drop in Britain’s birth rate risks putting schools up and down the country out of business (stock image)

London has also seen people move their families out of the capital in response to the Covid pandemic, house prices, the cost of living crisis and Brexit, London Councils said.

It has meant primary schools that were once scrambling to acquire extra classrooms are now unable to fill places, which has already led to dozens facing closure.

Schools receive on average about £7,000 for each child on their register, so if numbers drop too far it becomes financially unviable.

Secondary pupil numbers across the country are forecast by the Department for Education to fall from 2025 onwards, reaching 98,000 fewer by 2030 – a three per cent drop which is equivalent to 3,266 classes or 92 schools.

London Councils – a cross-party body which represents local authorities in the capital – said that the decline means that in Britain’s biggest city the number of reception pupils is set to fall below the number of year 7 students for the first time next year.

However, the number of children entering the first year of secondary school is also expected to drop from next year, with the overall number of pupils in London boroughs set to decline by 4.3 per cent by 2027.

This will be most keenly felt in the borough of Lambeth, which is expected to see a 14.3 per cent decline in student numbers at mainstream schools by 2027, the BBC reports.

The population of young children is expected to plummet by more than half a million by 2030 ¿ the equivalent of 17,000 classes or 1,800 schools (File image)

The population of young children is expected to plummet by more than half a million by 2030 – the equivalent of 17,000 classes or 1,800 schools (File image)

The City of London is set to see a fall of 11.8 per cent in the same period, while Lewisham, Westminster and Camden will all also see drops of more than seven per cent.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, urged the Government to take a ‘pragmatic approach’ and keep open schools even as pupil numbers fall. 

‘It would be a waste to allow smaller schools to close, only for there to be a need for more places in those areas further down the line,’ he said.   

On Tuesday, parents nationally faced a nervous wait while they found what primary school had offered their child a place for the next academic year. 

The Government said 92.5 per cent of children received an offer from their first choice last year, while 98.3 per cent got chosen by one of their top three.

The national figure for 2024 has not yet been revealed, but some councils announced their individual rate of children being offering first choices – with 91 per cent in Warwickshire, 96 per cent in York and 97 per cent in Leicester.

In London’s Tower Hamlets, 92.3 per cent secured a place at their first preference school, which was above the London average of 89.1 per cent for 2023. 

A DfE spokesman said: ‘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.’ 



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