Secondary schools facing ‘population timebomb’

July 17th, 2014 Category: Secondary Education

A significant increase in the provision of school places is likely to be required over the next decade, as new figures have forecast the population of pupils in the UK is set to increase by more than one million over the next ten years.
Data compiled by the Department for Education showed there were almost 7.1 million children enrolled in state schools up and down the country last year, but this figure has been predicted to grow to just over eight million by 2023.
At the same time, the secondary school population in the UK is forecast to rise to more than 3.2 million pupils over the same timeframe – exceeding the previous record level of pupil numbers that was set in 2004.
In all, the total number of children in state education by the early 2020s will rise to levels not witnessed since the 1970s. This rise in pupil numbers is the equivalent of an extra 1,900 schools being required by 2023.
Chairman of the children and young people board David Simmonds commented: "The reality is that parents in many cities are not able to exercise choice over the school they send their children because of the pressure on places. That's true in parts of London and we're also starting to see it in other cities such as Bradford and Bristol."
In the next two years, the government has forecast that an additional 50,000 school places – beyond those previously forecast – could be required to meet the growing number of pupils entering state education in the UK.
Meanwhile, a "demographic bulge" is expected to make its way through the education system over the coming years, with a 17 per cent increase in the number of secondary school pupils witnessed by 2016.
As a result, the Department for Education must continue to prioritise the creation of new school places in the coming years if this additional demand for places is to be met.
Earlier this week, government officials stated a £5 billion investment in creating new school places is being made during the course of this parliament, with more than 260,000 places having been created in recent years.
"There was always more spare capacity in secondary schools than primaries, which is why the huge capacity-building programmes have been aimed at primary level," Mr Simmonds added.
"Although we have that extra breathing space, we must be sure the resources are there to expand secondary schools before it develops into a problem."
Indeed, the influx of new pupils into secondary education over the coming decade is likely to require the construction of upwards of 500 new secondary schools across the country, while many existing educational establishments will be required to expand to meet this growing need for places.
Responding to the figures, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University Professor Alan Smithers described the situation as something of a "timebomb" and if forthright action is not swiftly taken, this could present a serious problem that future governments will have to face.