The growing pupil population – implications for secondary schools

With rapidly rising pupil numbers, a current shortage of places in one-fifth of local authorities and high parental expectations, secondary school admissions are arguably about to come under even more of a spotlight than usual. Zoe Claymore explores what the data tells us and the possible implications for schools and teachers in SecEd.

Demand has already risen

Nationally, pupil numbers in state secondary schools have risen by 69,000 since January 2013 and now stand at nearly 2.85 million (as of January 2018), the highest level since the start of the decade. Secondary school applications also rose by 83,000 between 2013 and 2018, a rise of 17 per cent. 

Some local authorities may already be feeling the impact of this rapidly rising demand. In January 2018, 29 local authorities, nearly one in five, received more secondary school applications from families who live in their borders than there were places available.

The shortage of places is most acute in urban areas. In 2018, 27 of the 29 local authorities that were short on places were cities such as Birmingham, Nottingham and Bristol, and London boroughs – particularly outer London boroughs such as Greenwich, Ealing and Croydon.

In contrast, areas with a large surplus of places appear to be largely rural. In 2018, there were 14 local authorities which had more than 1,000 surplus places, which were largely rural counties such as North Yorkshire, Norfolk and Cumbria. These large surpluses in some areas appear to suggest problems with place planning at a regional or national level. A surplus of this magnitude could indicate that some rural schools are struggling to remain viable, and difficult decisions may be required to ensure school places are located in the areas where they are needed..

The supply and demand trends, along with a reduction in parental preferences being met, are particularly worrying as the Department for Education’s (DfE) own projections indicate that there will be an extra 376,000 pupils in the secondary school system by January 2023 compared to 2018 levels.

What can local authorities do?

There are several ways that the available secondary capacity in a local authority may be increased, each of which will have an impact on school leaders. A new free school could be opened, which depending on its size could bolster capacity significantly, albeit not for a few years as there are considerable steps to work through, from navigating the complex planning process and finding a suitable site to hiring sufficient numbers of new staff. While a new school adds capacity, it also increases competition to attract pupils, which may be an issue for any local schools which are judged by Ofsted to be underperforming. 

Read more ideas on what can be done and what it will mean for schools. The growing pupil population – implications for secondary schools

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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