London schools face crisis as pupil numbers plummet


The full extent of the pupil exodus from London has been laid bare in a new analysis which shows thousands left the capital’s schools last year.

The number of children moving out of London entirely rocketed in the past year, while the total leaving the state system for private schools or home education in the capital is also higher than pre-pandemic levels. The figures show that more than 28,000 children left London’s primary schools and 22,000 left secondary schools in 2021/22, while fewer than 38,000 joined, making a net loss of 12,000 pupils in one year.

The analysis of school census data by FFT Education Datalab also shows that:

  • 2.3 per cent of London’s primary pupils moved to state schools in other regions last year — which is more than a third higher than pre-pandemic levels. A further 2.5 per cent of primary pupils left for private or home education.

  • The total number of primary pupils in London schools has dropped by 23,500 since before the pandemic— from almost 610,000 in 2018/19 to 586,000 in 2021/22. The sharp drop is causing a financial crisis in London schools because they lose funding for every child that leaves. Many schools, including Archbishop’s Tenison’s Secondary in Lambeth, Randal Cremer primary in Hackney, St Michael’s CE Primary in Camden and St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls in Lambeth, are closing due to falling pupil numbers, while others plan to merge in a bid to survive.

The plummeting numbers of children in London schools has been caused by a combination of a falling birth rate, families leaving because of Brexit, the pandemic, lack of affordable housing and the cost of living, experts said.

There was a 17 per cent fall in the birth rate in London between 2012 and 2021, according to London Councils. David Thomson, chief statistician at FFT Education Datalab, and author of the report, said: “The primary age population has been declining since 2019. A fall in the birth rate will make this situation worse in the coming years.”

Lambeth councillor Ben Kind, which is one of the worst affected boroughs, said: “These numbers highlight the reality that many schools across London are reaching a point of financial crisis. The Government must work closer with local authorities and schools to find financial solutions that minimise the threat of closures and all the disruption that comes with them.”

Nationally the number of children joining primary schools in the past year outweighed those leaving, with a net increase of 0.7 per cent. But in London, there was a drop of minus 0.9 per cent.

In secondary schools nationally there was a net drop in numbers of minus 0.2 per cent, but in London the net loss was much larger, at minus 1.2 per cent, the report reveals. The drop in pupil numbers comes after two decades of dramatic improvements in London’s schools, which caused many to be intensely oversubscribed for years.

But separate figures show that in the past year there was a 2.67 per cent drop in the number applying for a primary place, down to 87,000. Compared with 2015, when 103,000 children applied, there has been a 15 per cent drop.