London ‘needs 105,000 more secondary places by 2025’

27th November 2015 at 00:00
The equivalent of 90 new schools will be required as demand in the capital soars by 26%, study predicts

Demand for secondary places in London will increase by more than a quarter by 2025, with 105,000 extra places needed, the first major forecast for the next decade has found.

The research, published today by the Greater London Authority, shows that the capital will need a total of 165,000 more school places over the next 10 years. It is one of a pair of reports (the other explores headteacher shortages, see panel) outlining threats to the progress made by London’s state schools in recent years.

The study predicts that demand for secondary places will grow by 26.5 per cent – the equivalent of 90 new schools. The research, the first on pupil numbers for the Mayor of London, also forecasts an 8.8 per cent rise in demand for primary places over the same period – an extra 60,000 places.

Munira Mirza, London’s deputy mayor for education, said the figures were “sobering” because creating new secondary places was “costlier, slower and more difficult” than expanding primary places. “Meeting the demand for secondary places over the next decade is the foremost educational challenge facing London today,” she said.

Rising birth rate

The reports will be launched at a conference today, where mayor Boris Johnson will call for London to have a single regional schools commissioner (see panel). The study on pupil numbers, Projected Demand for School Places, says a rise in the birth rate is the main factor behind the extra demand, with annual births in London increasing by 28 per cent between 2001-02 and 2011-12. It finds that an “extraordinary period of growth” in demand for primary places is coming to an end, but that a time of “large increases in demand for secondary school places” is just beginning.

Tim Plumb, co-headteacher of Woolwich Polytechnic School in south-east London, told TES he was not surprised by the figures. The multi-academy trust his school belongs to has been asked to consider expansion. “I think the answer will be to ask the smaller and the most successful multi-academy trusts to expand schools and open new schools,” he said.

But Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School, a free school in north-west London, said: “I think it would be a mistake nationally to expand successful schools, because often when successful schools expand they become less successful.

“At a large school, it’s hard to know the families well and to support them properly.”

TES reported last month that local authorities in England facing large rises in pupil numbers had plans for “supersize” schools with as many as 16 classes in a year group.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want every parent to have access to a good school place for their child…That is why we doubled the funding for school places to £5 billion in the last Parliament, creating half a million new places. London has benefitted significantly from this, receiving almost £2 billion in the last four years.”

Should headteachers be asked to postpone retirement?

Schools should ask headteachers considering retirement to either delay the move or take phased retirement, to curb school leadership shortages in London, according to a new report for the city’s mayor.

The study, Building the Leadership Pool in London Schools, warns of a shortage of high-quality heads and points to research conducted earlier this year by education consultancy The Key, which found that nearly six in 10 London headteachers were considering leaving their role in the next three years.

The new report also investigates what is preventing teachers from applying for headships, finding that the “stress of accountability” is “one of the biggest factors”.

It says that housing costs in the capital are also a cause, because many teachers move out of London to buy a home and start a family after a few years in the job.

A Department for Education spokesman said it recognised there was a recruitment “challenge” but added: “Our Talented Leaders initiative is placing outstanding headteachers into struggling schools, and through programmes like School Direct and Teach First we are helping schools to recruit candidates they may have previously struggled to bring in.”

Johnson: ‘A London schools commissioner is a no-brainer’

London mayor Boris Johnson is calling for an overhaul of the regional schools commissioner (RSC) system. He wants the capital to have a single RSC, rather than being split between the remits of three commissioners.

“A schools commissioner for London is a no-brainer,” Mr Johnson said. “We need a commissioner with the powers and oversight to ensure there will be enough school places…and that pupils will have access to the rigorous, high-quality education that they deserve.”

Three RSCs each cover part of the capital as well as a wider region. There is an RSC for the East of England and north-east London; one for south-central England and north-west London; and one for the South East of England and South London.

Mr Johnson’s deputy mayor for education, Munira Mirza, said it “just doesn’t make sense” to have an RSC with “power over Hackney and Suffolk but not Hackney and Islington”.

A report by the CfBT Education Trust last week warned that the dramatic progress of the capital’s schools since 2000 was being put at risk by the “waning” of much of the collaboration and joined-up thinking that came with the nowdefunct London Challenge scheme.

But a Department for Education spokesman said: “The RSC structure is designed to spread that excellence into the outlying counties.”

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