Redbridge Council aims to stop new schools plans after sharp drop in pupil numbers

Redbridge Council wants to halt plans for two new schools in the borough as a sharp drop in pupils threatens existing schools’ finances.

The Department for Education currently plans to open a new primary school, run by City Gates Church in Ilford, and a new secondary school, run by the Harris Federation.

However, 70 per cent of the borough’s primary schools are now short of pupils and thus receiving less funding, due to Brexit and the rising cost of living in London.

On Wednesday July 7, the council’s director of education Colin Stewart told the Schools’ Funding Forum it had advised the department not to go ahead, arguing new schools won’t be needed “for a considerable period of time”.

He said: “We have more school spaces than we need. There’s always an element of spare capacity but 70% of our primary schools have spaces.

“Part of that is due to the proportion of families from Europe, who would have migrated here when the UK was part of the European Union and are now no longer in Redbridge.

“There’s also a drop in people moving from inner to outer London. They are effectively bypassing outer London and moving out of London altogether.

“A significant factor in that will be the cost of living. Migration from other parts of the world is virtually non-existent, particularly due to Covid-19.”

While a number of housing developments are expected to bring families to the borough, Mr Stewart said many are behind schedule due to lockdown and a UK-wide shortage of construction materials.

A decline in class sizes will mean a drop in the amount of government funding received by the borough’s schools, much of which is allocated on a per-pupil basis.

Mr Stewart warned that, as early as next year, things could “start to become more financially challenging” and that one or two schools “might need to look at restructuring”, potentially by losing staff.

A report submitted to the forum showed that, in the last financial year, seven of the borough’s primary schools received “protection funding” due to a drop of more than 5% in pupils.

In total, £665,000 was spent ensuring the affected schools remain “financially viable”, with £319,000 spent on William Torbitt Primary School in Ilford alone.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter