Four primary schools in Hackney will close next September due to the ongoing decrease in the number of school-aged children
Last night, Hackney Cabinet agreed on the proposals to close or merge six schools in Hackney, as a result of the significant decrease in their pupil numbers.
The schools that will close in September 2024 are:
- De Beauvoir Primary School;
- Randal Cremer Primary School.
The schools that will merge in September 2024, are:
- Colvestone Primary School and Princess May Primary School, onto the Princess May site. This means that Colvestone will close in August 2024, with all pupils offered the option of moving to Princess May if they so choose;
- Baden Powell Primary School and Nightingale Primary School, onto the Nightingale site. This means that Baden Powell will close in August 2024, with all pupils offered the option of moving to Nightingale if they so choose.
The proposals, first announced in March 2023, have been made in accordance with the DfE guidance on opening and closing schools, and are in response to an ongoing, significant decline in the number of school-aged children, observed all across London. Factors for the decrease are thought to include lower birth rates, the cap on housing benefits, and families leaving the capital (as a result of the housing crisis, Brexit and the pandemic).
There are simply not enough children in the borough and neighbouring areas seeking places at Hackney primary schools, and this is forecast to remain a problem in the following years. Despite Hackney building new homes, the expected number of additional school-aged children will be insufficient to have any significant impact. The recent Strategic Housing Market Assessment 2023 shows that household growth in Hackney until 2039 will be predominantly in single people and cohabiting households, with little change in the projection for families with children. With the exception of Stamford Hill, the majority of Borough-wide housing need is for smaller homes.
Hackney schools currently have over 600 empty places in reception classes alone, a 21% surplus. A healthy surplus is between 5 and 10%. The October 2023 census shows even fewer children joining reception in Hackney compared to the Greater London Authority’s earlier forecast, with three additional reception classes remaining unfilled this year (92 children).
Smaller classes may sound like a good idea, but the opposite is true. This is because many costs are driven by the number of classes in a school, whereas funding levels are driven by the number of pupils.
The plummeting rolls have had a huge impact on schools budgets needed to pay staff, maintain and repair their buildings, buy all the modern equipment and resources that the schools need, or organise activities for children. In 2022-2023 alone, the 58 primary schools in Hackney were missing more than £30m in funding compared to if classrooms were full.
Financial reserves across Hackney’s maintained primary schools, or the federations they form part of, are reducing at an alarming and unsustainable rate, and are projected to fall by £6.48m or 70% in the two years to March 2024. The combined surplus totalled £9.08m in 2021/22, fell significantly to £5.8m in 2022/23, and is forecast to drop further to £2.6m at the close of 2023/24 financial year. This is while over two thirds of Hackney’s maintained schools, or the federations they form part of, are predicting they will over-spend during the 2023/24 financial year.
Following the Cabinet’s decision, officers will work together with the headteachers of the affected schools to finalise detailed, bespoke support packages that will help the transition for all the staff members, pupils and families directly impacted. This will include:
- direct financial and logistical support for schools;
- staff support, including: employment and skills training, support searching for alternative roles, staff wellbeing, pensions and benefits advice;
- pupil transition support, such as: one to one support for families to find an alternative school with an dedicated admissions officer, drop ins / workshops, financial support for families towards the purchase of a new school uniform, special support and transition arrangements for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
We know schools are much more than places where children and young people go to get an education, they are a core part of the local community. Following what the data tells us means that last night we had to make an incredibly difficult decision. But this is the only way to ensure that we can minimise the long term negative impact on Hackney education and more widely on the Council’s budget, at a time of extreme financial pressure.
None of this is due to any fault of our schools, their leadership teams or staff. The schools that will be closing have gone above and beyond to ensure that the falling rolls have the least possible negative impact on the quality of education, and I would like to thank once again their exceptional leaders for their tireless work, kindness and compassion.
It has been a difficult process for all those involved in this project since we first publicly announced these proposals in March 2023, and this decision brings with it a deep feeling of loss. I know that the leaders, staff members, pupils and families of the closing schools will need time and support from us to grieve and to prepare for the transition that will be taking place. Our officers have already been in touch with the school leaders and begun preparing bespoke support packages for staff, pupils and the families affected.
We understand that once parents find a treasured school with amazing leaders and staff and good support it’s very difficult to accept that it may be taken away from them. But great schools are the rule, not the exception in our borough. 98% of Hackney primary schools are good or outstanding, and we will continue to do everything we can to support them in offering high quality, sustainable education for all our children.