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Primary school pupil numbers fall as families priced out of Westminster – South London News

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By Hannah Neary, Local Democracy Reporter

Top primary schools in central London are half empty as high living costs drive families away and out of the city.

The worrying trend revealed state-run primary schools in Westminster were getting low on pupils.

Tory-led Westminster City council is working with schools to tackle the problem but councillors said more action was needed to stop families being priced out of the borough.

Labour councillor Tim Roca said: “We’ve got some schools that are up to 50 per cent below capacity. It was a trend before Covid-19.”

Cllr Roca said the low number of primary school pupils in Westminster was caused by young families not being able to afford to live there.

He said: “We’re not building enough family homes that are genuinely affordable and people are being priced out.

“Many of our families born and raised in Westminster are sometimes being sent out of London altogether in temporary accommodation.”

He said more should be done to keep them in the city.

He said: “Westminster has failed to build the family homes so desperately needed.

“Westminster Conservatives need to stand up for our schools and make sure they get the money they need.”

The number of borough schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted is currently 91 per cent, above the national average of 86 per cent.

A study carried out by council officers in 2020 found Westminster’s state primary schools were more than 20 per cent down on pupil figures.

The report said: “Surplus primary school capacity remains a significant issue in Westminster.

“Spare capacity now stands at 22 per cent, and this is having an impact on school budgets and resources some schools have available to them.”

Councillors discussed the latest pupil figures at a meeting on Wednesday, February 2.

Labour councillor Geoff Barraclough said he was concerned about Westminster’s low pupil numbers where there was an excess of 2,500 spaces.

Councillor Timothy Barnes, cabinet member for young people and learning, said the excess spaces was a trend which would go on to affect secondary schools.

He said: “It is not a Westminster-specific problem. Kids are leaving central London along with their families.

“The greater problem has been a long-term decline in the number of school-aged kids across central London and a long-term demographic decline.”

The Tory councillor pointed to the decline in the UK birth rate too.

He said: “The country is depopulating and in central London it’s accelerating.

“Over time, we’ve done a very good job because the quality of our schools is comparatively high, which has led to roughly speaking 40 per cent of the kids in our schools being from outside Westminster.”

A spokesperson for Westminster City council said: “The council commissioned a primary school review in summer 2020 to look at surplus primary school places, working with schools, Diocesan boards and academy trusts.

“Key recommendations and strategies continue to be in progress to reduce the surplus capacity and address the financial consequences that fewer pupils numbers in schools presents.”

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