• England will see more than 385,000 additional pupils enter the primary and secondary school system by 2021/2022, filling the equivalent of 12,835 extra classrooms
• London, the South East and the South West will see the largest increase in school-aged pupils in the next two years
• Birmingham will experience the largest increase in pupil numbers and will require 330 new school classrooms, or 25 new schools
An additional 385,000 pupils will join England’s school system by 2021/2022 reveals the latest research by Scape Group, the public sector procurement specialist. To meet this demand, England requires 12,835 additional school classrooms across the country or 640 new schools.
Scape’s report, The School Places Challenge 2019, examines the challenge facing the UK’s school system using Department of Education and devolved authority data. This is the fourth edition of this analysis from Scape Group. The report reveals that England’s school-aged population is set to increase by 5.5 per cent over the next two years.
England’s regional school places challenge Number of extra school places required by 2021/22 All pupil growth % New primary school classrooms required by 2021/22 New secondary school classrooms required by 2021/22 New primary and secondary schools required by 2021/22
Over the next two years, every region in England will experience at least a three per cent increase on the current number of pupils, but London, the South East and the South West can all expect to see the largest increases. Local authorities in the South East will have to build the most primary school classrooms (568), while local authorities in London will have to build the most secondary school classrooms (1,872). Overall, the South East is under pressure to build the equivalent of 131 schools.
Birmingham is the region which faces the most substantial projected increase in the next two years, with Manchester coming in a close second. Both cities can expect more than 12,000 extra secondary pupils by 2021/2022. Between them, they will need to provide the equivalent of 53 new schools in the next two years.
However, it is not just densely populated cities that are feeling the strain. London’s commuter belt is also experiencing significant pressure to provide school places. Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire all rank within the top ten areas that experience the most significant school-aged population growth.
But despite councils being legally responsible for ensuring that the demand for school places is met, the process for establishing and funding schools is often outside their control. Local authorities have no direct control of free schools, grammar schools or academy places, despite the fact these types of schools make up the bulk of the current government’s school places strategy.
Mark Robinson, Scape Group Chief Executive, comments: “As with many critical issues that desperately need political attention, education has dropped down the agenda as government bodies focus on Brexit and our future position with the rest of the world.
“Every region in England needs to build more schools, and local authorities nationwide will be feeling the strain. We must collectively focus on delivering a strategy and solutions which not only provide high-quality, modern spaces for teaching and learning but also offer our colleagues in local authorities cost certainty, value for money and timely delivery.
“In March, record numbers of children missed out on their first choice of secondary school, and appeals against secondary school offers have doubled in six years. This issue is likely to be exacerbated in the coming years if we do not think and act more creatively now. Good schools are the bedrock of our society, and there can be no room for error.”
Scape Group’s recommendations on how to tackle the School Places Challenge
1. The adoption of offsite construction as the main method of building for all new schools and extensions would ensure that they are built faster than traditional methods. If modular can grow in scale, building schools will become more efficient and cost-effective.
2. A fairer education funding model for local authorities, which ensures that they can work with central government to set budgets that reflect local need. In particular, local authorities should play a part in judging and approving free school proposals to make sure that new schools are established where they are most needed.
3. Greater collaboration between councils and developers to ensure that secondary schools are built in major urban extensions and developments first, through agreements between developers seeking planning permission and the local planning authority (Section 106 agreements).
Mark Robinson, Scape Group Chief Executive, continues: “The current government believes free schools are the answer, but I would argue that this standpoint has been born out of ideological stubbornness, rather than a genuine effort to tackle the school places crisis. Deploying government resources to existing school structures instead would enable local authorities to refurbish and extend current schools to provide additional school places. This would be a much more efficient way of spending taxpayers’ money.
“England will have 385,031 more pupils by 2021/2022, and with demand continuing to grow, it is vital that we focus on solutions that will allow us to create additional school places quickly and resourcefully, without compromising on quality. Offsite technology is one answer.
“While the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) started its push for modular four years ago, only 70 schools have been built using offsite construction so far. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) not only enable quick construction but can also cost local authorities significantly less. Until the government takes more pragmatic action, they cannot claim to be safeguarding the futures of young people.”
The full Scape Group report, The School Places Challenge 2019, can be downloaded from www.scapegroup.co.uk/research.