Falling numbers for free school meals but rates still among highest in country

children legsThe number of pupils claiming free school meals is continuing to fall in London. However, there is a greater proportion of children in nursery, primary and secondary schools claiming free lunches here than in many other parts of the country.

New data from the Department of Education shows that nearly 17% of London pupils are receiving free school meals in nurseries and primaries – more than two percentage points higher than the average in England.

Only the North East and West Midlands regions have a higher proportion of youngsters on the free meal scheme.  In Tower Hamlets and Hackney more than a third of under 11s are receiving free meals. The Merseyside borough of Knowsley is the only local authority with a higher rate.

In Southwark, a fifth of children are claiming free meals, a slight increase on last year.  But the numbers are down in Lewisham and Westminster, and the largest decrease took place in Islington where 29% of pupils are claiming school meal benefits, down from 38% last year, but still the third highest rate in the capital.

Free school meals primary

The trend is similar among secondary school pupils. On average, 13% of children over 11 are on the free meal scheme across England. The rate is similar in Outer London but significantly higher within inner London, with more than 40% in Tower Hamlets and 30% in Hackney and Islington. In Camden and Lambeth it is around a quarter of secondary school children.

Free school meals secondary-2

London varies hugely with outer areas pushing the capital average down.  Boroughs in the South West score as low or lower than many other parts of the country, with both Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames averaging less than 9% for students below the age of 16 claiming free school meals.

Free school meals are available to children from families who are claiming other types of benefit for unemployment or low income.  In 2013 the government extended the scheme so that all children in reception, year 1 and year 2 at state primary schools, ie all children under 8, receive free meals.  From year 3 onwards families must register and make a claim.

Entitlement to free school meals is commonly used as an indicator for children living in poverty. But many who are entitled to the benefit do not claim, a reluctance sometimes attached to social stigma. In London this year 215,000 children are judged to be eligible but only 180,000 are receiving free meals.

Source data

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Primaries cope with the birth bulge but pressure on places will soon shift east

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Photo: Oleg Doroshin | Shutterstock

The competition for primary school places is always nerve-wracking for parents and this year was potentially the toughest yet.  A birth rate bulge in 2011/12 meant that there were more children than ever before applying for a place in reception starting in September.  But London schools appear to have coped.

Provisional figures from the Pan London Admissions Board show that when offers went out to anxious parents on 18th April about 84% received their first choice, up 1% on 2015. 93% were offered a place in one of their top three choices out of up to six schools they were asked to list on the application form.

But for more than 3,000 kids and their parents who were offered no place at their preferred schools there’s an anxious wait to see where they’ll be going in September.

Primary schools in London received 103,329 applications this year, according to the Pan London Admissions Board.  The school age population of London is growing at twice the rate of any other region of the country and forecasts from the GLA suggest the the 677,000 children attending state primaries in London will rise by 60,000 over the next decade.

The full data on places for this year is yet to be released but some provisional figures show that only 68% of children in Kensington and Chelsea got their first choice and 72% in Hammersmith and Fulham.

The GLA forecasts show that the pressure on places will shift eastwards in the coming years with greatest demand for places in Tower Hamlets – nearly 7000 extra.  Kensington and Chelsea is the only borough where demand will fall.

Primary school demand

The ongoing problem for pupils, parents, schools and local authorities is that population growth presents not just a difficulty in finding a first primary place but has a knock on across the school years, as reported by Urbs.

The GLA has forecast that London will need the equivalent of 90 new secondary schools over the next decade to cope with the growth in pupil numbers.  Primary school places may be a problem but secondary school places provide the bigger challenge as building these schools takes longer and is more expensive due to the size and facilities required.

Source data

See also

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105,000 extra secondary pupils pose huge challenge for capital’s schools

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105,000 extra secondary pupils pose huge challenge for capital’s schools

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Photo: Monkey Business Images ┃Shutterstock.com

London needs the equivalent of 90 new secondary schools to deal with the growth in pupil numbers over the next decade.

The number of children of secondary school age is projected to rise by 26.5%, and there’ll be an increase of 9% in primary pupils by 2024/25.

The Greater London Authority’s Intelligence Unit made these projections and in the introduction to its report the Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture, Munira Mirza, says: “Meeting the demand for secondary places over the next decade is the foremost educational challenge facing London today.”

The rise in numbers has been driven by an increasing birth rate, up 28% between 2001/02 and 2011/12. The GLA Intelligence Unit also says that there has been a reduction in the number of young families leaving London since the financial crisis of 2008.

This increase in children has already placed pressure on primary schools but it will soon feed into the secondary schools.

Currently there are 394,000 pupils aged 11-15 attending state secondary schools in London. By 2024/25 that number is projected to have grown by 105,000. That’s equivalent to 3,500 secondary school classes.

The GLA’s projections show that the rise in pupils is spread right across the capital. The biggest increase is in Barking and Dagenham with nearly 5,900 additional pupils. Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Croydon, Brent and Hounslow also see a steep rise in demand. The smallest increase is in Kensington and Chelsea.

Secondary school places

These numbers reflect the increase in demand not a shortfall in school places. A number of pupils might be accommodated through available capacity or new schools or extensions to existing ones that are planned.

However, a projection on the shortfall in places by London Councils (a body that represents the boroughs) reported by Urbs, estimates that 34,000 secondary pupils could be without a school place in the next 5 years alone.

As the GLA report points out, finding a solution will not be quick or easy as building new secondary school takes longer and is more expensive than developing primary schools due to the size and facilities required.

Source data

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34,000 pupils could be without a secondary school place in next 5 years

school desk handsParents in London are familiar with the struggle to find primary school places for their children. The shortage is now feeding through to secondary schools and a local government organisation says London will face a shortfall of 34,000 places between now and 2020.

London Councils, which represents the 32 boroughs and the City of London, is warning the government that the capital’s secondary schools are facing a shortfall crisis unless more funding is given to build more schools or expand existing ones.

The organisation says that there will be a 3% growth each year in primary school pupils until the end of the decade, which means 80,000 more children. The impending problem for secondary schools is compounded by higher than average growth in primary school numbers over the past 5 years.

The organisation forecasts that this will mean an increase in secondary school pupils across London from 488,000 to 561,000 by 2020. This if 5 times more than the growth between 2010-15 and current capacity can cope with fewer than 40,000 more pupils.


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Our multi-lingual city – English second language for half of primary pupils


The problem for London is particularly acute with a growth rate of 15% in the secondary school population compare to 9% for the rest of England.

London Councils says that in recent years boroughs have used there own resources to supplement central government funding to keep pace with demand for school places, but more government funding is now needed.

Peter John of London Councils said: “In recent years there has been a shortfall of around £1 billion between the real cost of school places and the money councils receive. Boroughs have received just 59% of the cost of new school places provided, closing the gap by selling assets, borrowing or drawing from other sources of funding within the council.”

London Councils used the data the boroughs provide to the Department for Education on school places to make the forecast and published its findings in a paper entitled The London Equation.

Our multi-lingual city – English second language for half of primary pupils

pupils listen to story-2Nearly half the primary school children and 40% of the secondary pupils in London do not speak English as their first language. In some boroughs three quarters of the students speak English as a second language.

Data from the Department for Education shows how numbers have increased across the country since 2007, but the multi-national make up of London stands out. Across the country 19% of primary pupils have English as a second language. In the South West and North East it is just 7%. In London the average is 49%.

English second lang primary

The picture is similar for secondary school students. 15% of pupils across England are, using the Depart for Education criteria, known or believed to have a first language other than English. In London it is 41%.

English second lang secondary

London is broadly a multi-lingual city with 50% or more primary pupils speaking English as a second language in 16 of the 33 areas. Tower Hamlets and Newham have the highest proportion, 75%. The levels are also high in richer areas like Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and the City of London.

English second lang map

The proportion is only in line or lower than the national average in the outer boroughs of Havering, Bexley and Bromley.

Source data

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Schools data reveals ethnic mix with fall in proportion of white British pupils

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