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New figures released by the Department for Education reveal that more than 90 primary schools in England are at risk of closure or will face shutdown due to

significant classroom vacancies. According to the data, 88 schools had an occupancy rate of less than 66% last year, with an additional four schools already slated for closure.

The decline in student numbers and associated per-pupil funding can be attributed to decreasing birth rates and young families leaving urban areas due to rising housing and childcare costs. The Department for Education predicts a reduction of over 900,000 pupils by 2032, which has financial implications for schools that receive funding based on student enrollment.

Jon Andrews, Head of Analysis at the Education Policy Institute, highlighted the potential budgetary challenges for schools already facing financial pressures. He also noted that approximately 1 in 5 schools in England are currently operating beyond their capacity, leading to additional strains on teaching staff and limited access to preferred schools for some pupils.

The average vacancy rate among the 156 schools that closed between 2009-2010 and their last year of operation was around 66%, similar to the figures observed last year. In certain regions, such as inner London and the southwest of England, approximately 50% and 33% of schools, respectively, reported a decrease in student numbers from 2009-2010 to 2021-2022. However, the northwest and West Midlands witnessed an increase in pupil populations in about 66% of schools.

While the vacancy rate is a key indicator of closure risk, it is important to note that some schools may choose to shut down for various reasons, including reception year size. In recent years, the number of reception-year pupils has declined in nearly half of the primary schools offering places. Approximately 13% of these schools experienced a shortage of reception students compared to their year 1 and year 2 cohorts.

Since 2009, around 160 primary schools have closed, and approximately 570 schools have merged, as per analysis of the Department for Education figures. As of the 2021-2022 academic year, there were 16,791 primary schools in England. A spokesperson from the Department for Education emphasized that school funding will reach its highest real terms level next year, with an additional £2 billion investment allocated for 2023/24 and 2024/25.

They also stated that local authorities and academy trusts are responsible for managing school places in accordance with changing demographics and have been doing so for many years. Photo by Lewis Clarke, Wikimedia commons.