State school population slated to fall by a million

The number of pupils in state school primaries has been falling since 2019, with secondaries set to follow suit from 2024

The number of state school pupils is set to fall by almost a million in the coming decade, according to new projections from the Department for Education (DfE).

Currently standing at 7,859,000, the population is predicted to shrink to 6,915,000 in 2032.

The decrease of 944,000 represents a 12% drop, significantly larger number than the figure predicted just a year ago.

“The difference is primarily due to notably lower birth projections in the mid-2020 [Office for National Statistics] national population projections, used for the first time in this set of pupil projections, which are the main drivers of the pupil population,” said the DfE.

The population attending primary and nursery schools peaked in 2019 and has been falling ever since then. While this is chiefly due to the continued reductions in birth numbers since 2013, the larger drop in 2021 is likely explained in part by the pandemic (parents may have opted to home-school their child rather than send them to reception class, for example).

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The new data predicts that the fall is set to continue, with the total state primary population shrinking by almost 17% – from 4,571,211 to 3,810,464 – over the coming decade.

Government figures reveal that the drop in primary age children is already making an impact, with more than two thirds of council areas having to plan for a rise in surplus places by 2024.

That is the year when the secondary school population is predicted to peak (at 3,230,015) before following a similar downward trajectory and dropping to 2,950,857 in 2032.

The new figures point to an uncertain future for many workers in the sector, with the number of population-related surplus places amplified by a period which has seen the building of hundreds of new schools.

State school capacities are already being reduced, with empty classrooms being recast as units for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities.

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