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Primary class sizes set to drop;Hot data;Briefing;News amp; opinion

THE PRIMARY school population has peaked, at least for the time being. with January 1999 figures appearing to reflect the top end of the present cycle.

From now on, the number of children in primary schools is likely to decline each year, to reach a figure of some 300,000 pupils below current levels by 2008.

However, forecasting population trends is not an exact science; DFEE officials appear to have revised upwards their estimates for the number of primary pupils likely to be in school from 2000 on.

Although current rolls are still below a projection made in 1997, planners expect the decline in primary numbers not to be as severe as predicted.

For 2005, the original 1997 projection has been raised by some 52,000 pupils, or in other words, an overall increase of just over 1 per cent in the total number of pupils.

The good news for the Government is that any reduction will help them achieve their policy of reducing class sizes at key stage 1.

The number of children starting nursery schools, rather than remaining in playgroups or other forms of pre-school provision, may have an impact on the data.

On the other hand, a concerted attack on teenage pregnancies might also help to cut the primary school population in the future.

But, of course, none of these calculations can take account of any blip next year caused by the millennium celebrations.

John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. Email:

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