Islington council: “we need to lobby government over school rolls deficit”

Education bosses said councils are gearing up to lobby government over funding at schools hit by falling rolls.

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

A group of parents stand at the school wall, one holding a petition
Concerned parents of pupils at Pooles Park Primary School, Lennox Rd, Islington. Photo: LDRS

Education bosses said councils are gearing up to lobby government over funding at schools hit by falling rolls.

Islington Council is looking at the next step of its schools reorganisation plan, which it said is forced on it because of empty desks at primary schools that have pushed some of them into deficit, making some unviable.

Overall nearly half of Islington’s schools are projecting deficits by the end of the 2024/25 school year with a £5.5m deficit overall.

Education experts said the drop is due to a falling birth rate and families moving out of London because of Brexit, the high prices for housing, and the cost-of-living crisis.

Primary school rolls in Islington have dropped since 2017 and there are currently 430 spare places in reception.

So far the council has merged Vittoria and Copenhagen primaries in Barnsbury.

However its plan to shut Pooles Park primary in Finsbury Park was scrapped after the Department of Education stepped in and invited an academy trust to take over.

The council aims to cut 195 spare places by September 2024, bringing the current 20 per cent vacancy rate in line with the usual 10 per cent inner London vacancy margin.

Education number-crunchers said data from a range of sources, including the 2021 census, suggests reception numbers will continue to fall.

They said there are other factors outside their control such as free schools opening or schools shutting in neighbouring boroughs.

They warned that “we need to do further work on our school estate to address the acute ongoing decline”.

The direction of children’s services, Jon Abbey, told councillors that some areas “are hoping it will go away”.

He said: “Over the next two academic years there will have to be swift action.”

He said neighbouring boroughs are also seeing a drop in the number of pupils, with a 21 per cent vacancy rate in Hackney and 15 per cent in Camden.

He told councillors on the children’s services scrutiny committee: “When you do have the vacancy rate within your schools, it actually impacts the system.”

He said at one council, 50 per cent of schools have a licenced deficit of £0.5m or more, and in another local authority, every school bar one has is in deficit.

“We’re not there,” he added. “Some are either ignoring it, hoping it goes away, and others are hoping that the government will bail them out – they’re not going to do that.”

He said councils need to present their “articulate, precise and data-driven” message to the Department of Education’s regional director “who are stubbornly not necessarily listening.”

This includes pointing out “the number of schools that have been mothballed, the number of schools that have been closed”.

Islington’s executive member for children, young people and families, Michelline Ngongo, said London Councils is planning to lobby government over funding.

She is also backing a campaign to encourage families to send their children to Islington’s schools.


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