End of pupil boom in sight

The recent pupil projections issued by the DfE  National pupil projections: July 2022 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) show that the secondary school population is likely to peak at around school years 2024 or 2025 for England as whole. For some part of the country, notably the South East the date might be later, depending upon internal migration.

The DfE suggest that primary pupil number, including nursery pupils, will fall between 2022 and 2023, and by 2030 there will be 680,000 fewer pupils in the sector than in 2022; a reduction of approaching 15%. Even in the secondary sector, there is projected to be a small decline overall during the period 2022 to 2030.

Looking at these numbers, it is possible to see why there needs to be some consideration of the number of ITT places in the remainder of the decade. The secondary pupil numbers will decline through much of the second half of the 2020s and even though the primary sector fall is reducing by 2030, and the teaching workforce will likely be older than at present, demand for teachers under normal circumstance should be less than at present. Of course, what is normal and how any change in ITT provision should be managed are policy questions open to debate and alternative views.

But, with, it would seem in the present economic circumstances and the demands of the NHS, government funding unlikely to support any overall improvement in pupil teacher ratios and reductions in class sizes, the outcome is a need for fewer teachers unless some other aspect of the model changes. Factor in a low tax, high wage economy and the demand for teachers looks even less likely to continue at present levels.

The two unknowns are, firstly, whether an economic slowdown drives more teachers to stay put and returner numbers to increase and secondly, whether demand for graduates and for teachers from schools around the world will reduce the teacher workforce in England faster than expected just from the decline in the pupil population.

The DfE notes that the projection model published in 2021 estimated a school population of 7,269,000 in 2032, so the updated model shows a decrease of 354,000 on the total at the end of its projection period. The difference is primarily due to notably lower birth projections in the mid-2020 ONS national population projections, used for the first time in this set of pupil projections, which are the main drivers of the pupil population.

Next year the data from the 2021 Census will be fed into the ONS models, and, as a result, there might be some more significant changes to the outcome totals from 2028 onwards when the data are next published in July 2023. However, it seems unlikely that the changes resulting from the 2021 census will result in the demand for teachers increasing later in the decade. I suspect that there will once again be some regional analysis of school population trends that is missing this year.

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