Update on the proposals to close or merge six schools in Hackney
The decision on whether to proceed to the next step in the proposed closures and mergers of a number of schools in Hackney as a result of the significant decrease in their pupil numbers will be taken by the Council’s Cabinet later this month.
The report that will inform that decision has been published online. It recommends that the Cabinet publishes statutory proposals to close two schools and merge four others into two.
The proposals, announced in March this year, are in response to an ongoing decline in the number of school-aged children in Hackney. This reduction means 21% of reception places were unfilled in 2022-2023.
Schools are financed based on the number of pupils they have. The significant decline in pupil numbers has caused some schools to face serious financial and sustainability pressures. In 2022-2023 alone, the 58 primary schools in Hackney were missing more than £30m in funding compared to if classrooms were full.
Earlier this year, parents and carers, staff, and all others interested were able to share their views on the proposals, as part of the consultation that took place in June and July 2023.
A total of 613 postal and online questionnaires were received during the consultation period, and a further nine responses were received by other routes. A total of 89% of the responses were against the proposals, with 8% agreeing, and 3% neither agreeing or disagreeing. The full consultation report can be read here.
The Cabinet report advises that, despite the majority of the feedback being against the proposals, the Council should still publish statutory proposals, according to the guidance from the Department of Education for Opening and closing schools. This would trigger a 28-day representation period during which any person may object to or make comments on the proposals.
This is because the objective factors that are at the basis of the proposals sadly have not changed, and, based on the latest information available to the Council, their negative impact on the education system in Hackney as a whole is projected to continue for years to come.
- There are simply not enough children in the borough and neighbouring areas seeking places at Hackney primary schools, and this is currently forecast to continue to be a problem in the following years. The Greater London Authority (GLA)’s projections available for Hackney indicate the surplus reception places will rise up to 23% in 2025/26, and then slowly decrease and stagnate at 20% until 2031/32.
- Schools with insufficient funding find it increasingly difficult to operate effectively without exhausting reserve funds or going into deficit. This financial pressure forces schools to make difficult decisions including reducing staff, putting off investment or maintenance, or finding other savings, all of which can significantly impact the overall quality of education.
- The Council is ultimately liable for the deficit of maintained schools, and cumulative bailouts could have disastrous impact on the council's overall finances - at a time when it is already required to make significant savings. The longer the Council delays taking action, the greater the financial burden it will inherit.
We know that schools play an important role in the lives of their local community. They are not just a place for children to receive an education, but also hubs that bring people together.
The financial pressures faced by our schools reflect a London-wide problem. Lower birth rates, the cap on housing benefits, families leaving the capital as a result of the housing crisis, Brexit and the pandemic have led to changes in population that are beyond our control. Unfortunately, the fact that 95% of our primary schools are good or outstanding has not been able to protect them from the reduced demand for school places.
This is no fault of the Council or our schools, and we remain committed - now more than ever - to ensuring that families with young children feel welcome in Hackney by delivering more than 1,000 new council homes and more family housing across the borough.
Following what the data tells us means that now we have to consider incredibly difficult decisions. 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.
We are committed to securing the future of Hackney schools and to provide as much continuity as possible for children, families and staff. We will continue to work together with our schools to support them in providing high quality, sustainable education for all our children.
The Cabinet will meet on 25 September to decide whether to publish statutory notices of its intention to close/merge the schools.
More information about the proposals can be found on the project’s webpage.