Hackney ‘poised’ to undertake school closures after drop in pupil numbers

Schools could reopen at the beginning of June. Picture: CORBIS

Hackney has seen a drop in school intakes over the last few years. - Credit: � Royalty-Free/CORBIS

Hackney Town Hall is "poised to consider and undertake" primary school closures or permanent intake reductions to tackle falling pupil numbers "in the near future", but after the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus has eased, according to council documents.

According to the Town Hall’s School Organisation Plan for the next five years, demand for reception places across the capital has decreased year on year since 2015 for “unclear” reasons.

The documents speculate it could be linked to welfare benefits, rising rents or the effects of Brexit, which has impacted on the “efficient running and financial stability” of some schools.

Highly-placed sources in the council suggested to the LDRS that a primary school closure could be one of the options considered to tackle the problem, on the basis of a consultation on a reduction in school places and detailed demographic data.

Falling pupil numbers has already prompted a consultation on the reduction of published admission numbers (PANs) for September 2022 at Harrington Hill and Thomas Fairchild (from 60 to 30), Gayhurst (from 75 to 60), and Mandeville and Randal Cremer (from 60 to 45).

However, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said there will be "no simplistic, let’s-just-take-off-the-shelf closing of a school”.

Deputy mayor and education chief Cllr Anntoinette Bramble cautioned it is "too early to say” whether such policies would be carried out.

Mayor Glanville said: “I’m unconvinced of the case around closing primary schools. Populations ebb and flow. When I moved to the borough, and if you look back at the 2001 census and all the political debate about inner London, we were still discussing the decline of inner London and population movement."

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He said there are "challenging budgets in schools" with "no advantage in running deficits" and jeopardising their "long-term financial stability".

“What more can we do to support those schools that are in slightly more challenging situations?," he asked. "Often it is because nearby schools have been able to invest for the long-term and parents have voted with their feet. We need to make sure that any decisions we take are grounded in the evidence and take people with us."

The borough leader went on to pledge a “sophisticated approach” to tackle the problem, such as more SEND specialisms, splitting schools across sites, or mothballing a site that could reopen if the population rises.

Deputy Mayor Bramble said: “It is not about any individual school, it is about our schools as a whole – what does the uptake look like? What we are doing in the interim is not a long-term solution, we are just looking at how we can reduce this in terms of early years at the moment. Anything that we are looking at and thinking about is about 2022."

Hackney’s fall in reception numbers by 284 pupils between 2014 and 2018 is a pattern replicated across inner London, with the Town Hall stating projections do not indicate demand will increase short-term.

This follows a period of “significant and unprecedented growth” in demand for reception places in the borough between 2007 and 2014, according to the Town Hall’s organisational documents, with “very high rolls” between 2012 and 2016 prompting London boroughs to create more school places.

A Town Hall spokesperson said: “Pupil numbers are currently falling and that’s why we’re consulting on reducing some admission numbers. 

“Whilst there’s no suggestion that we are considering closing a primary school, we do have to keep a range of options under consideration in considering the demographics and sustainability of schools.”

However, the Town Hall’s school organisation plan 2020-2025 reads: “No decisions have been taken regarding further permanent PAN reductions from September 2021, or school closures. 

“However the council is poised to consider and undertake these measures in the near future once the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 reduces and government guidelines for social distancing are fully outlined.

“The issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to reshape how schools run for the foreseeable future. Current Department for Education (DfE) guidelines suggest that schools implement social distancing and utilise all available space within school buildings to safely accommodate pupils."