School closures soar

26th February 2010 at 00:00
Job fears grow as figures reveal that half of those to shut in last decade have gone in last two years

The rate of school closures in England has dramatically increased in the last two years, new figures reveal.

Nearly a third of primaries and secondaries to shut in the last decade closed during 200708 and 200809 financial years, statistics show.

The overall loss of more than 1,300 primary and secondary schools in 10 years has prompted concerns among teaching unions about staff being increasingly vulnerable to job losses.

It has also led to fears that a record birthrate in 2009 will leave schools struggling to accommodate pupils in the future.

In the secondary sector, 286 community and foundation schools have closed in the last decade, with 30 per cent of the total closures taking place in the last two years.

The majority of closures have taken place in the primary sector, which has lost 1,039 schools in 10 years, 317 of them since 2007.

Falling pupil rolls, shrinking rural populations and the closure of middle schools are partly responsible for the trend.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, condemned the rate of closures. He said that per-pupil, rather than per-place funding had "promoted short- termism" among local authorities.

"I am consistently amazed by local authorities' lack of capacity to work together and carry out proper demographic studies," he said.

"There are villages that appear to be dying one year and massively expand the next, so they have to prepare for that."

Margaret Morissey, founder of the Parents Outloud lobby group, said: "Parents campaign when their children's schools are threatened with closure because they want schools in the neighbourhood.

"School closures reduce choice for parents and are also short-sighted, because in a few years' time the numbers will go up and the remaining schools will be oversubscribed. There will be a shortage of places and no money to build new ones."

A growing trend for school federations has also contributed to the closure figures, raising concerns that the policy is being pushed too heavily by the Government.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers are particularly vulnerable to hard federations, which bring a number of schools under the leadership of one person.

Dr Dunford, who will address the issue at ASCL's annual conference next week, said: "Up until recently, the government's policy for schools to work together had created a spectrum of federations from `hard' to `soft', but it's clear that the government is now more intent on creating hard federations under a single governing body.

"The Government has recognised that schools improve schools and the best way to support a school is by linking it with a more successful one, but these federations must not be about money."

Some of the secondary schools that have been closed have been replaced by academies, which often involve the merger of several schools.

The National College for the Leadership of Schools and Children's Services said last week that it will send a team of advisors to rural areas to help schools to work together. This came just months after Ed Balls said that school federations could shave pound;500m off the education budget.

The Government does not yet hold figures for the total number of hard and soft federations, although the National College says there are 350 people employed as executive heads.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the strategy to bring groups of schools together under the same name had the potential to be "a new dawn or a disaster".

He accepted there were circumstances where amalgamations were practical, but added: "We are against top-down change where all the heads of the schools are removed and just one head takes charge, with deputies looking after each school."

School census returns from 1999 to 2009 show the number of special schools fell by 12 per cent, partly as a result of the Government's inclusion policy.

While the state sector has seen a drop in the number of schools, the independent sector has grown by 132 schools since 1999, despite a spate of recession-related closures.

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