An official forecast from the Department for Education has predicted that an extra 750,00 school places will be needed in England by 2025 to prepare for the effects of an impending population surge. The predicted surge will follow the current trend, which has seen 16 consecutive years of rising pupil numbers in schools across the UK.
This will be one of the many challenges faced by incoming Secretary of Education Justine Greening. The Department for Education has said that it will commit £7 billion to creating extra places.
The increase has been driven by a rising birth rate, with The Telegraph reporting in March that there has been a surge in school applications this year.
The Department for Education forecast, meanwhile, says that “direct immigration of pupils” has only had a very small effect on the numbers, but that the increase is largely fueled by a greater number of non-UK born mothers who tend to have larger families.
The new figures have been contrasted with those between the years 2009 and 2016 in which the school system expanded to take in an extra 470,000 pupils. According to the Department for Education’s projection, there will be an additional 10% of pupils in state schools, up from roughly 7.4 million to about 8.1 million.
As reported by the BBC, head teacher leaders have said that the “massive increase” will exacerbate the already-growing issue for parents of getting their children into their preferred choice of school.
The official forecast shows that the population bulge is mainly affecting secondary school numbers, with the increase in primary school numbers actually slowing. The primary school population is currently 4.5 million, with the forecast predicting it to rise 4.68 million in four years time before stabilising.
Meanwhile, the annual school census published last month has shown the pressure on places has increased the average size of primary schools by 30 pupils.
The next big increase, however, will be in secondary schools. Secondary schools currently hold 2.76 million pupils, a number that is forecast to rise to 3.33 million by 2025.
This means that within the next ten years, secondary schools will have to create an extra 570,000 places, and these numbers do not include post-16 education or sixth forms.
Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, has emphasized the need for the involvement of local authorities in better planning for extra places.
“We are looking at over 750,000 more young people in school education by 2025. The government’s only clear plan for increasing capacity is to open 500 free schools. Whilst good, new free schools are fine, they are not sufficient.”
Holby also mentioned the current teacher recruitment crisis, as teachers are being driven away from the profession amidst working conditions, which sparked union tensions during outgoing Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s time in office.
He reiterated that:
“The government will also need to take teacher recruitment and retention more seriously”.
Figures published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies have shown that 40% of teachers who enter initial teacher training were not teaching five years later.
However, a Department for Education spokeswoman has said that the government’s “top priority” is creating school places for pupils. The £7 billion government initiative will reportedly create 600,000 new places in the next five years.
The recent forecast follows Nicky Morgan’s announcement last year that she had ordered officials to investigate links between “education tourism” and immigration levels, as well as the recent change in the annual census which means that data will be more focused on how many children from immigrant families are going to school in the UK.