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.

What is the role of a school in its community?

For everyone interested in either the role of a middle tier in our school system in England or in how pupil place planning and support for vulnerable children is handled in the current shambles around the arrangements for schools in England, this is an important report to read. Local authority provision for school places and support for vulnerable children – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) The recent White Paper on Education was the second one to pledge to change in-year Admissions and this Report indicates why Ministers should act swiftly to make the necessary changes to the current system.

At the heart of the debate about the middle tier is the role of local authorities and the role of academies and the Trusts that run them. The following two quotes from the report sum up current situation nicely in relation to these important issues for the management of our schooling system:

‘Nevertheless, our research also suggested that there are two ways in which academisation can affect local education systems. First, because there are different processes for making decisions and resolving disputes about place-planning and placements of vulnerable pupils for academies and maintained schools, where an “isolationist” school is an academy, it can be more difficult, complex, and time-consuming to resolve issues. Second, while not generalising, school, trust and LA leaders and parents/carers reported that, among the minority of schools that took an “isolationist” approach, these were more likely to be schools that were part of larger regional or national academy trusts.’

‘Furthermore, there was broad agreement among school, trust and LA leaders and parents/carers that LAs were uniquely placed to play this role [place planning]. (In relation to place-planning, a minority of trust leaders and national stakeholders argued that the RSC should be wholly or partially responsible for delivering place-planning.) Whichever way roles and responsibilities are configured, there was consensus about the need for clarity, alignment of responsibilities and decision-making authority, for reciprocal expectations of schools, trusts and LAs around participating in local partnership-based approaches to place-planning and support for vulnerable pupils, and a renewed, more collaborative relationship between local and central government.’

The situation is summed up by a quote from a local authority officer:

‘Nobody wants to roll back the clock. But if we have MATs not working for the best interests of young people in the community, we don’t have any direct levers. We would have to go through the RSC, and not sure they have many levers. A lot of accountability sits with the LA, but the responsibility of delivery sits with schools. Doesn’t feel appropriate. We need some accountabilities placed on academy trusts and schools to deliver expectations [for vulnerable children].’ (LA officer page 106)

We need a system that works for the children seeking an education, and not primarily for those that provide that schooling. This is especially true for our most vulnerable young people and I hope that Ministers will spend time over easter reading this report and then acting upon its findings. State schooling is a public service and must be managed as such.

Fewer pupils creates problems

The DfE has released its annual update to pupil projections. This is of immediate interest both to ITT providers and those responsible for planning school finances going forward into the medium term. The publication and associated tables can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-pupil-projections-july-2021

Actual (2020) and projected pupil numbers by school type, England
State-funded nursery & primary schools4,6474,6354,5974,5314,4544,3954,345
 year on year change -12-38-66-77-59-50
State-funded secondary schools3,0033,0723,1333,1933,2313,2283,216
 year on year change 69616038-3-12
State-funded special schools113117119120121120119
 year on year change 4211-1-1
Alternative provision settings15161717181818
 year on year change 110100
Total state-funded schools7,7787,8397,8657,8627,8247,7617,699
 year on year change 6126-3-38-63-62
Projections on pupil numbers

The DfE make the following important point about the numbers:

This year only a simple update to the 2020 model has been created with the addition of newly available 2019 national population estimates and births from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The reasons for this are:

  • There are no new ONS national projections giving new estimates of the future overall population
  • The 2021 school census data shows notable decreases in enrolment in nursery and primary schools and alternative provision compared to previous years. These are expected to be temporary, as a result of the pandemic, rather than long-term changes. However, using this data results in decreases across future years which are not considered to be realistic estimates of the pupil population over the next ten years.

The new 2019 ONS data provides additional information on factors such as whether birth figures have continued the drop seen since late 2016. Therefore feeding this data into the existing model provides a useful update on expected future pupil numbers. 

The various views on whether or not the fall is temporary must be of great importance. A loss of 300,000 primary school pupils in six years with the current funding formula for schools in place will have significant implications.

For those preparing primary schools teachers for entry into teaching the implications could come as soon as this autumn if entry targets for 2022 announced by the DfE using the Teacher Supply Model take account of the start of the reduction in pupil numbers.

For the secondary sector, there are probably a couple more years at present levels for teacher preparation courses before reductions in popular and fully subscribed subjects along with recruitment controls come into force once again.

Of course, with the DfE controlling the application process it will be interesting to see how the different parts of the DfE interact with each other, especially in view of the recent ITT Market Review.

The years of relative planet are going to be followed by some years of belt tightening across the education sector. The announcement on pay may not be unrelated to these figures on pupil numbers.

Small schools: what’s their future?

Last Thursday, the DfE issued a raft of statistical information. The data about teachers has been covered by this blog in a number of different posts. As a result, the data from the January School Census that covers schools and their pupils has had to wait its turn. Happily, there is now time to reflect upon the data.  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

In terms of public expenditure implications, the important news is that there are more pupils to be funded, as the rise in the birth rate of a few years ago starts to work its way through the system. Overall, there were 84,700 more pupils in education in England in January 2019 than in the previous January. This is despite any trend towards home schooling or off-rolling.

The bulk of the increase, 69,500, came in the secondary sector.  Assuming more of the increase to be in Year 7, then this probably required some 3,500 more teachers. Not all will have been recruited, as some schools will have falling rolls at sixteen and in a few cases still, at fourteen due to movement of pupils to UTCs and Studio Schools.

The number of primary pupils increased by 10,800; an insignificant increase on a pupil population of 4,730,000 pupils. This levelling off in the primary school population, and its possible reduction in a few years’ time, has implications for the system that will be discussed later.

It’s worth noting the increase in the number of pupils in special schools, of some 6,500. How far this is an awareness of extra need and how far schools looking to place pupils that cost more to educate than a school normally receives cannot be identified from the data. However, by January 2019, almost all pupils should have converted from a Statement of SEN to an EHCP.

It is worth noting the fall of 900 pupils in independent schools. It isn’t easy to identify where that trend is coming from, but some of it might be as a result of local authorities reassessing the cost of placing SEN pupils in such schools, and instead now using cheaper state funded provision and thus contributing to the increase in numbers in special schools.

The most concern in policy terms arising from this data are the future shape of the primary school system. While there are 13 primary schools with over 1,000 pupils, there are almost 2,000 primary schools with 100 or fewer pupils. Together these latter schools account for approaching one in eight primary schools. Some will be infant schools, where a merger with a junior school could create a primary school, as has already happened in many instances. However, where these small schools are already primary schools, how will their future be assessed? Does the present funding arrangements permit local authorities and academy chains to retain such schools, both for the good of their communities and to prevent very young children having to take bus journeys to and from school each day? Some counties with small communities that are widely distributed will certainly face this problem, even if they aren’t already doing so. So far, I haven’t heard anything from the Leadership contenders about this matter.

Pressure on school places intensifies

The DfE has published the data on offers made regarding admission to primary and secondary schools for September 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/secondary-and-primary-school-application-and-offers-2019

In view of the growing number of pupils in the transfer age group from primary to secondary school, now almost universally at age eleven, the percentage of pupils receiving their first choice of schools fell again this year to just 80.9%.

Secondary Schools
Entry into academic year % made 1st preference offer
2010/11 83.2
2011/12 84.6
2012/13 85.3
2013/14 86.7
2014/15 85.2
2015/16 84.2
2016/17 84.1
2017/18 83.5
2018/19 82.1
2019/20 80.9

The percentage successful at gaining a place at their first choice schools has now declined every years since 2013/14 when it reach a high of 86.7%. Of course, there are significant regional differences, as well as differences between urban and rural areas.

As the DfE points out in the report: Northumberland (98.4%) and North Somerset (96.9%) achieved the best first preference rates in 2019. Northumberland has been the top performer in this measure for the last four years.

As in previous years, the lowest first preference rates at secondary level are all in London, Lambeth (54.8%), Lewisham (56.9%) and Hammersmith & Fulham (57.3%) achieved the lowest rates in 2019.

Central Bedfordshire is now the only local authority to submit secondary data for year 9 as their largest secondary intake. They had the third best percentage of transfer to secondary school to their middle schools that are classified as secondary schools.

Interestingly, there is no comment by the DfE on the transfer of pupils at age 14 to the UTCs and Studio schools. Presumably, anyone that wants to go to these schools can secure a place.

There was a small fall in first preference rates in the primary sector this year, down from 91.0% last year to 90.6% this year, but this is still well above the 87.7% of 2014/15.

This year there were 608,200 applications for a primary school place, virtually the same as last year, but the 604,500 applications for a secondary place represented an increase of 3.6% over last year, and just over 100,000 more than the lowest year of 2013/14.

There are implications in teacher supply for this increase in the secondary school population. The increase has been factored into the Teacher Supply Model by DfE civil servants.

What hasn’t been factored into the real world situation is the shortfall against the Teacher Supply Numbers in many subjects as far as trainee teacher numbers are concerned.

As this blog has pointed out in other posts, even assuming the DfE projections on retention and returner numbers are correct, not recruiting enough trainees can have real implications for schools.

As piece of research in California has demonstrated that it is the schools serving the more deprived neighbourhoods that suffer most when it comes to recruiting teachers when there is an overall shortfall. I fear the same is likely to be true in some parts of London, especially with the bonus on offer to some teachers to go and work in Opportunity Areas.




Primary schools want children

Last week the DfE published the outcomes for admissions to primary and secondary schools for the school year starting in the autumn of 2018. As might be expected at this stage of the cycle of overall pupil numbers, where primary pupil numbers are falling and secondary numbers are increasing, more pupils gained a place at once of their preferred schools in the primary sector and fewer were successful in the secondary sector than in the previous year.

These trends are likely to continue until the government either starts culling places from the primary sector as a matter of policy or allows the National Funding Formula to achieve the same end by forcing the closure of schools unable to balance their books.

As academies don’t need to stick to national pay norms and returners to the profession don’t need to be paid the salary they earned when they left, we might see some battles over the morality of teachers either being asked to take pay cuts or doing so voluntarily to keep a local school open. Whether we ever return to the sponsorship of local schools, as happened in the 1980s, when a women’s magazine helped out a small Oxfordshire primary schools, is something to watch out for over the next few years.

Percentage of entrants successful with one of their preferred schools

Entry Year Secondary Sector Primary Sector
2010/11 96.6 NA
2011/12 97.2 NA
2012/13 97.6 NA
2013/14 97.8 NA
2014/15 96.8 96.4
2015/16 96.4 96.5
2016/17 96.5 96.9
2017/18 96.1 97.7
2018/19 95.5 98.1

Source https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/secondary-and-primary-school-application-and-offers-2018

Anyway, this year there are also the usual regional differences, with parents in rural areas more likely to receive a school they have selected and parents in many parts of London the least likely to be successful. The distribution of secondary schools across much of London predates the current administrative boundaries, especially in the former LCC/GLC/ILEA area that used to lie across the more central areas of the Capital. This historical distribution of school sites affects some parts of the capital more than others and closures and housing redevelopments have also left the location of secondary schools not always ideally linked to the wishes of parents, whatever successive governments have said about wanting to support parental choice.

Even though the majority of schools are now achieving higher standards than a generation ago, there are still areas with either clusters of schools or individual schools that parents try to avoid. In most cases not all parents can do so, and these are often the parents that don’t receive any of their expressed preferences and can end up at the very school that they are trying to avoid. In many cases, they will then appeal the outcome of the admissions procedure.

With more secondary school places still needed, the importance of good pupil place planning at a local level cannot be over-stated. The DfE now seems to have recognised that fact, but has yet to create a single coordinating body and remove the Education and Skills Funding Agency from the data to day operation of opening new free schools.


Another slice of fudge?

Congratulations to the civil servant that worked out it was possible to circumvent the cap on faith-based admissions placed upon new free schools by reviving the concept of voluntary schools, where there has never been any such cap on admissions. The proposals are contained in the government’s response to the 2016 Schools that Work for Everyone Consultation. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/706243/Schools_that_work_for_everyone-Government_consultation_response.pdf

The determining paragraph is on page 14:

To enable the creation of these places, we will be establishing a capital scheme to support the creation of new voluntary aided schools for faith and other providers. Schools created through this scheme will have the same freedoms as existing voluntary aided schools, including over their admissions which will enable them to select up to 100% of pupils on the basis of faith. There has never been a general route for any faith group to receive 100% state funding for a school with 100% faith-based admissions. In line with this, and our longstanding approach to funding of voluntary aided schools, the Department for Education expects those groups establishing voluntary aided schools to contribute 10% of the capital costs relating to their schools. Local authorities will play a key role in supporting and approving any new voluntary aided school, to ensure it fits well with our integration and community cohesion objectives. They will be well placed to consider how new proposals will meet demand from, and potential impact on, the local community. The Department for Education will develop the details of this scheme over the coming months and will set out the arrangements by which proposer groups can apply for capital funding later this year.

It is interesting that new voluntary aided schools don’t seem to be restricted to faith providers. However, anyone contemplating such schools is going to have to raise 10% of the capital costs, so best to start with a small school and then expand it later if successful. These schools will, presumably, have to be built under the ‘presumption’ route, as otherwise they would need to be free schools and hence capped as to faith limits.

This may well provoke some interesting discussions where a small local authority such as a London borough or a unitary council needs a single new primary school. How is the evidence of demand going to be assessed? It may well be challenging to believe the data from parish priests and diocese. I well recall the demand for a Catholic secondary school when Oxfordshire replaced its three tier system with primary and secondary schools and the Catholic diocese wanted to break up the existing Ecumenical Upper School and establish a wholly Catholic secondary school. They sent a procession of parish priests along to explain the demand for such a school. They got their way, but the school now has less than 40% of its pupils as Catholics.

There is a strong case for granting voluntary aided status for a set period of time. If the school roll falls below the 50% of pupil numbers of the free school threshold for the faith at the end of a set time period then, unless it can regain that threshold within a set period, the school should revert to being a community school.

The challenge, of course remains that discussed by the Wesleyan Methodists before the 1902 Education Act was passed. Are teachers that are Methodists called to be teachers of children or of Methodists? Faith groups demanding voluntary aided schools need to have an answer to that question.