In the last two weeks I have enjoyed visits to Regent, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Our Lady’s Schools. At each the high expectations for pupils and the committed staff were a good reminder of the ability of schools to be an oasis of learning and be successful against the odds. This is something that is increasingly difficult in a climate of fewer resources to go round. In 2020, for the first time since 2008, London experienced a lower percentage change in the total numbers of live births than the rest of the country and a report published last week by the London Councils highlights the anticipated decline in pupil numbers in London boroughs from 2023-24 to 2027-28. Over this four year period, there is forecast an average drop in demand of 4.4% at reception on average across London and this masks some larger decreases. Whilst North Central London, which includes Camden, is predicted a 2.5% fall, boroughs in North West London are forecasting a decrease in demand over 7%. At secondary school level, forecast demand is also falling with a forecast drop in demand of 4.3% for Year 7 places on average across London, with a predicted fall in North Central London of 3.2%. Managing the drop in demand for places is an enormous challenge facing the majority of London boroughs.

The report sets out the challenges for schools that this drop presents, including the impact on school budgets and the spectre of school closures making several recommendations that include creating a ‘DfE falling rolls fund’, which is accessible to schools experiencing a short term drop in demand, ‘more flexible’. It also argues that the DfE should work with local authorities and schools to promote more inclusion in schools, including resourcing them to enable more children with SEND to access mainstream school places. It points to the need for solid partnership work locally, including with the dioceses, neighbouring local authorities, and between different regional agencies and organisations, in particular ensuring that academies are part of local school place planning arrangements and school organisation plans. There is much continuing nervousness about falling numbers of pupils and it is only through developing a common understanding and strategy both locally and regionally can this be tackled. BBS outlines a partnership approach to support schools experiencing the challenge of squeezed finances caused by falling rolls, we also need a common understanding of where the challenges lie and a strategy to focus on those that are most at risk. There is clearly more that needs to be considered and done here so it is good to know that the school-place planning group is about to have its first meeting later this month.

February half term is upon us along with a richly deserved break from the daily routine. I hope that you have plans for the week ahead that remind you of the great world outside of school corridors. Enjoy the break!

Stephen Hall

Chief Executive Officer, Camden Learning

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