Primary schools potential closure and merger plans
Hackney Council is considering consulting on closing or merging six primary schools, as a direct result of the significant decrease in pupil numbers, which has caused some schools to face serious and irreversible financial pressure.
This school year alone, there are 634 vacant reception places in Hackney, the equivalent of more than 20 per cent across the borough. A healthy vacancy rate is five per cent.
In recent years, there has been a year-on-year decrease in primary aged pupils - a trend being seen in the majority of London boroughs. The Greater London Authority (GLA) projects reception demand to continue to decline until at least 2028. Factors thought to account for this decrease include falling birth rates, families relocating outside London (as a result of the pandemic and other factors including housing costs), the return to Europe of families as a result of Brexit, and competition from free schools.
A total of 589 fewer pupils started reception this year in Hackney compared to 2014, representing a loss of around 20 classes.
Schools receive funding from the government based on the number of pupils they have. This means some have significantly less money to:
- Pay salaries
- Provide the good quality of education that we expect for our children
- Provide extracurricular activities
- Access the most modern equipment and resources.
It also means that some schools, especially small schools on larger sites, can no longer afford to continue to pay for maintenance, and escalating heating and lighting costs.
In 2022/23 alone, the 58 primary schools in Hackney are set to receive £30m less in funding compared to what they would be entitled to if they were running with all classrooms full, with some of the worst-affected schools seeing a yearly loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds in income.
While our schools have achieved excellent results for their students, this income loss will make it increasingly challenging to maintain them in the long run. In time, a school affected by income loss will almost inevitably see performance and standards fall.
It is the legal duty of the Council to manage school places and ensure that schools provide high quality places for the children. And more than that, we are ambitious for our children: we want to ensure our schools remain among the very best in the country.
Schools that may close are:
- De Beauvoir Primary School, in Tottenham Road N1, in September 2024.
- Randal Cremer Primary School, in Ormsby St E2, in September 2024.
A merger (also known as amalgamation) brings together two or more schools to form one school - on one site and under a single leadership.
Four schools in the borough are currently considered to potentially merge into two schools on one of the existing sites.
The schools that may merge are:
- Colvestone Primary School and Princess May Primary School, onto the Princess May site in September 2024;
- Baden Powell Primary School and Nightingale Primary School, onto the Nightingale site in September 2024.
The main drivers behind the decreasing number of primary-aged pupils are outside of the Council’s control, and are the result of regional, national and international forces. However, the Council has been helping schools manage the situation by reducing and capping admission numbers to provide some budget certainty for headteachers. But this hasn’t - and won’t - solve the problem long-term, as there are still less children needing school places.
In Autumn 2014, there were only 10 unfilled reception places out of the 2,865 available in Hackney (0.35%). By 2022, this number rose to 634 unfilled reception places out of the 2,900 available in Hackney (21.86%).
The six schools that the Council is currently looking at saw their total number of unfilled reception places go from 6 out of 270 in 2014 (2.22%) to 101 out of 225 (44.88%).
This school year alone, based on the latest census data, the six schools are seeing a total income loss of over £4m compared to what they would be entitled to if running with all classrooms full.
The Council asked the government for help - by giving schools additional one-off funding to manage their falling rolls while numbers stabilise. In addition, we asked for greater powers to manage school places in free schools and academies - which are independent of the Council - in order to pool pupil place-planning resources. The government, in response, told us they had increased funding per pupils nationally - by around 2 per cent per pupil - but that is simply not enough.
Just 20 years ago the borough’s schools were some of the worst in the country; now they are among the very best. This transformation of education in Hackney is one of the greatest success stories of public policy in the country. We are proud of our children and young children, who are among the first in the country for Reading, Writing and Maths at Key Stage 1.
No one wants to be in this position. But lower birth rates, competition from free schools, the cap on rent benefits, high property prices and people moving out of London, means there are less children in our schools. This is no fault of our schools. Unfortunately, other London authorities are facing exactly the same challenges.
It is our job, as a local authority, to create life-improving opportunities for those in the borough who most need them - this starts with access to first-class education. And we must continue to ensure that every single child has access to an excellent education that allows them to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.
Any closure or amalgamation would not take place before September 2024. These would involve full conversations - as well as formal consultations - with parents, staff and governors. We will also seek to speak to the children and young people affected by the potential changes.
There are no plans to close or merge secondary schools. There is currently a small surplus in secondary schools, which is set to peak in September 2025, before falling again.
We passionately believe in our Hackney family of schools and know they have very close ties to their local area and communities, that’s why proposing closing and merging schools is one of the most difficult and distressing decisions we can make, and not one we would ever choose unless we had no other choice. But we must ensure the quality of education for our children, and stability for our staff, remain a priority.
We know this will be a concerning time for school leaders, parents and carers, and pupils themselves. School communities will be involved in discussions and plans from the very start and we are committed to listening to what they say.
Hackney Council will provide an update once the proposed plans go to Cabinet, in May this year.