Building to meet demand

With 640 new schools needed across the UK over the next couple of years to meet projections for pupil demand, the government, local authorities and developers need to make a concerted effort to work collaboratively, according to a report from Scape Group

New research has revealed that an additional 12,835 school classrooms will be needed in England by 2021/2022 in order to meet rising demand.
According to the Scape Group’s School Places Challenge 2019 report, more than 385,000 additional pupils will enter the primary and secondary school system by 2021, while the school-aged population in England is expected to increase by 5.5 per cent over the same period.
With 640 new schools needed across the UK over the next couple of years to meet current projections, the report argues that government, local authorities and developers need to make a concerted effort to work collaboratively.
The report points out that local authorities, that are required to make sure there are enough school places for their areas, should have a say on where free schools go, and suggests that perhaps government funding would be put to better use by refurbishing and extending existing schools.
Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, said: “The current government believes free schools are the answer, but I would argue that this standpoint has been born out of ideological stubbornness, rather than a genuine effort to tackle the school places crisis. Deploying government resources to existing school structures instead would enable local authorities to refurbish and extend current schools to provide additional school places. This would be a much more efficient way of spending taxpayers’ money.”

The regional picture

Although all regions will experience an increase in pupil growth over the next two years, London, the South East and the South West can all expect to see the largest increases, the report predicts.
Local authorities in the South East will have to build the most primary school classrooms (568), but local authorities in London will have to build the most secondary school classrooms (1,872). Overall, London needs to build the equivalent of 89 schools.
The number of primary school classrooms needed in each region has reduced since Scape Groups last report in 2017, but every region (except for the North East) will still have to build more than 100 primary schools in the next two years to accommodate projected pupil increases.
On average, each region in England will need to build 1,100 new secondary school classrooms to meet the projected demand.

Local authorities

Local authorities hold the responsibility of providing enough school places for residents, however the process for establishing and funding schools is often outside councils’ control. Local authorities have no direct control of free schools, grammar schools or academy places, despite the fact these types of schools make up the bulk of the current government’s school places strategy.
But the report points out that some free schools are being delivered in areas where demand is low, and that government funding would be put to better use by refurbishing and extending existing schools.
Birmingham City Council is faced with the most substantial projected increase, with Manchester City Council coming in a close second. Both cities can expect more than 12,000 extra secondary school pupils by 2021/22. Between them, they will need to build the equivalent of 53 new schools by 2021/22. It is not just densely populated cities which are affected.

The areas surrounding London are also experiencing a significant strain. Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire all rank within the top ten areas which will be most impacted by the growth of the school-age population.
On the other hand, a number of local authorities will see very limited school-age population growth, and for some, the number of primary and secondary school pupils under their jurisdiction will actually decline.  As we have seen in previous years, remote locations such as the Isles of Scilly, Isle of Wight and Cumbria all fall within the top ten local authorities with enough school places to meet current demand.

The picture in Birmingham

Birmingham City Council will need to build 111 new primary school classrooms, 319 new secondary school classrooms, or a total of 25 new schools to meet demand from the additional 12,904 school-age children expected to be living in Birmingham by 2021/22.
Birmingham is the second largest city in the country by population, with over 1.1m residents, 23 per cent  of whom are children. In the coming years, thousands of primary and secondary school pupils are likely to be affected by the shortfall of places, as the city struggles to keep pace with demand.
To tackle the current demand for additional school places, Birmingham City Council plans to deliver 1,035 new school places by the next academic year (2020/21). The upcoming Commonwealth Games, which is being held in the city in 2022, will lead to more building development. Alongside the desire to transform the Athlete’s Village into 1,400 homes after the games, contractor Lendlease will also be building a new secondary school for 1,260 pupils, which is due to open in 2021.
Being part of the West Midlands Combined Authority, Birmingham has significant opportunity for a more collaborative approach to school building across all local authorities that make up the combined authority. Devolving further powers and allocating fairer funding to the combined authority could help make sure there are enough school places across the whole region.

The capital’s challenge

Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to get their children into their first, second or even third choice of school in London. In March 2019, a record 33,000 children missed out on their first choice of secondary school in London.
Overall, London will have an extra 68,260 primary and secondary school pupils in the next two years, a 6.6 per cent increase on the current number. This breaks down to 7,550 new primary school children and 56,149 new secondary school children. Secondary schools in particular will feel the strain as they try to cope with increasing pupil numbers.
The London Borough of Havering will face the biggest challenge, with pupil numbers due to increase 11.3 per cent by 2021/22. This equates to the need for 93 new primary school classrooms and 59 new secondary school classrooms by 2021/22, or 15 extra schools.
On the other hand, the London Borough of Haringey will experience the smallest rate of growth of all London’s boroughs. In fact, it is projected that there will be 155 fewer school-age pupils living in the borough in two years’ time. This breaks down to a 4.3 per cent fall in primary school pupils (962 fewer), but a 5.4 per cent increase in secondary school pupils (712 extra). On balance, this means that only one new school will need to be built.
The London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Merton and Islington are among the top places to live for the availability of school places in the capital. If they do have to build any new schools, this would only be one in each borough.


The number of primary school pupils entering the education system in Scotland is set to fall. With 19,700 fewer primary school pupils by 2020/21, there is no requirement for new primary schools.
However, the primary school pupils that entered into the system five years ago  are due to progress to secondary school in the next couple of years, putting pressure on S1 (the equivalent of KS3 in the English education system) across the country. By 2020/21 there will be an additional 13,600 secondary school pupils, a 4.8 per cent increase on current numbers, which will require the equivalent of 453 extra classrooms or an additional 13 schools to accommodate them.
Aberdeen City Council will experience the biggest increase in secondary school pupils in the next two years – with an additional 1,400 pupils (a 17.5 per cent increase), equating to the need for an additional 47 classrooms.
Edinburgh City Council also needs an additional 47 classrooms as pupil numbers will climb by 7.5 per cent by 2020/21. The council has agreed on a £1bn package of spending as part of a four-year Change Strategy. This includes a £66.7m investment in new or refurbished primary or secondary schools to help meet current need. Education and training in Scotland are devolved to Scottish Parliament, with Holyrood providing funding to local authorities across the country. The Scottish government’s Schools for the Future programme, which began in 2009, is investing more than £1bn into the delivery of 117 new schools to help meet the growing demand for  secondary school places in Scotland.


Wales is not expected to experience any growth in primary school pupils in the next year, so the projections suggest no new primary schools are needed.
However, the country will see 12,248 more pupils enter the secondary school system by 2020/21. This represents an eight per cent increase on the current number of pupils attending secondary school and will place a huge strain on education providers. To alleviate this problem, 408 secondary school classrooms, or 12 new secondary schools will need to be built.
As well as fighting with a growing secondary school population, Wales is also battling school closures. Nearly 200 schools have closed in Wales (and only 69 have opened) since 2013 as the education landscape changes and local authorities struggle with budget cuts. All but two of Wales’ 22 local authorities – Swansea and Newport – have closed schools in the past five years. Although it is currently projected that Wales will need 12 new schools, if schools continue to close, this figure could become much higher.
Meanwhile, new schools and improvements to existing school buildings are being financed through the 21st Century Schools Programme, an initiative that is jointly funded by the Welsh government and local authorities. This is a long-term strategy for Wales’ educational estate. The second phase of investment announced in 2017 dedicated £2.3bn to rebuilding or updating more than 100 schools and college buildings which are deemed to be reaching the ‘end of their life’.
Despite the Welsh Government actively encouraging local authorities to embrace Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), such as offsite techniques, the uptake has been very limited.


The report says that the adoption of offsite construction as the main method of building for all new schools and extensions would mean that they are built quicker than by using traditional methods. If modular can grow in scale, building schools will become more efficient and cost-effective.
A fairer education funding model for local authorities is also needed, which ensures that they can work with central government to set budgets that reflect local need. In particular, local authorities should play a part in judging and approving free school proposals to make sure that new schools are established where they are most needed.
There should also be greater collaboration between councils and developers to ensure that secondary schools are built in major urban extensions and developments first, through agreements between developers seeking planning permission and the local planning authority, so that the area is prepared to meet increased demand.

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