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Falling school rolls and missing children

This recent article in The Times raises some interesting issues facing planners in the education sector.

The first set of output from the 2021 Census in England and Wales has recently been published. The population by age-group data allows comparison of a population count at Census Day 2021 with estimates of how the population was thought to have changed each year since the last Census in 2011.


The report shows disparities between the most recent estimates (pre-Census) of pre-school age children and those reported at the 2021 Census. As the article points out, estimates of pre-school age children between Censuses are usually accurate because of the need to register births and because of widespread registration of pre-school age children with a GP.


The differences may be caused by mis-estimation in the years between Censuses or they might be due to shifts in the population – either permanent or temporary. There are uncertainties about whether these suggested counter-urban shifts are real, and if they are, whether or not they will be sustained in the long-term. Perhaps the recent Census, conducted as it was in the middle of the pandemic, recorded populations in areas where they will not remain?


The trend of falling rolls combined with some level of population movement is backed up by the recent 2020-21 School Capacity returns, published in 2022 by the Department for Education, which show the percentage of primary schools at over-capacity at the lowest percentage in over a decade.


Falling birth rates, uncertainty around domestic and international migration (post-Brexit and amidst Covid) and some disruption to the housing market and new house building during the pandemic have all conspired to muddy the waters of an already complex picture.


Having an accurate and up-to-date demographic evidence base is of critical importance for funding and effectively managing capacity where Primary rolls are falling, Secondary ones expanding and the need for SEN and Alternative Provision increasing.


Edge Analytics works closely with a number of Local Authorities in providing school place planning forecasts through its edge-ucate suite of planning models covering mainstream, SEN and Alternative Provision.


These models incorporate latest information on births and pre-school child populations, together with forecast populations, pupil yield analyses and local planned housing growth trajectories.


The suite of edge-ucate models provide a comprehensive evidence base, arming school place planners with additional insight with which to navigate a complex period of demographic change.


"The edge-ucate models are an integral part of the school place planning process in Surrey - no question is ever beyond the expertise of the team at Edge Analytics and their support is invaluable to us"

Surrey County Council


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