Population Decline Looks Here to Stay. How Will Our Schools Be Affected?

Posted: February 16, 2024

Globally, population trends are shifting, with almost all countries experiencing declining birth rates and ageing populations. In the UK, these trends are pronounced, with no signs of returning to previous levels. This raises questions about the future of education.

Recent government reports indicate a significant decrease in pupil numbers, with predictions showing a 12% drop over the next decade. This signals a major demographic shift that will directly impact schools.

In this article, we explore the implications of declining populations for UK schools, focusing on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

What’s Driving the Population Trends

The UK has traditionally experienced steady population growth. However, recent trends show a very pronounced slowdown, attributed to several socio-economic factors including economic conditions, healthcare advancements, lifestyle choices, and government policies. This shift has profound implications for future planning in sectors like education.

Is Global Population Decline Inevitable?

Globally, population trends are influenced by numerous variables so it’s impossible to predict the future. However, while some regions may see slight changes, current patterns suggest a continuing trend of population decline in many developed countries.

China, for example, has just had its second year of record-low birthrates. Described by the Guardian as a “demographic timebomb”, the growth of the ageing population combined with the shrinking taxpaying population is likely to bankrupt the current pension system by 2035.

What’s affecting the population growth in the UK?

Key factors influencing population trends in the UK include decreasing birth rates, ageing populations, migration patterns, and rising cost of living. The most significant contributors to population decline are declining birth rates and an ageing demographic.

Certain regions in the UK are more affected by population decline than others, putting immense strain on estates and schools in areas such as Central London. 

“London Councils say almost 15% of school places in the city are now unfilled. It is forecasting a further 7% decrease in new pupils between now and 2026-27.”

The unfilled places are attributed to families being pushed out of London areas due to rising living costs, Brexit and Covid.

Impact on School Numbers and Education

The UK education system is already facing several immense challenges. Including funding constraints, teacher shortages, and RAAC issues. The shrinking young population adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult landscape.

So what can be done?

Education stakeholders have reservations about closing schools, in case the population returns to previous levels of growth. But there are no signs of this happening in the UK or globally. 

With declining pupil numbers, schools could be closed, or their capacity and resources adjusted. However, this hurts local communities. 

Another option is schools catering to a more diverse student population, including varying age groups and backgrounds. Labour is considering creating thousands of nursery places inside existing primary schools. And seeing as the UK has one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world, with some parents spending as much as 80% of their take-home pay on care for young children, the increase in available childcare places would be a welcome addition. 

A Collaboration Between Government, Educators, and Communities

A collaborative approach involving government, educators, and communities is vital for navigating the challenges posed by demographic changes. Policymakers must anticipate and begin planning for these demographic changes, to ensure the future of the education system.

Investing in the quality and accessibility of education is essential to ensure that all students, regardless of their location, age, or the size of their school, receive a high standard of education.

At the heart of it all? Data.

Accurate data is and will continue to be crucial for effective planning and resource allocation in schools. 

As pupil numbers fluctuate, maintaining accurate and up-to-date pupil capacity and building data will be fundamental. These reports will provide critical data for schools to make informed decisions about resource allocation, infrastructure adjustments, and future planning. 

Also, it allows estate leaders to back themselves up against the threat of closure, resource reduction and funding cuts from the government and local authorities. 

The Future of UK Education – Conclusion

The declining population in the UK will have significant implications for the future of education. This trend necessitates ongoing research, dialogue, and innovative policy-making to ensure that schools adapt effectively and continue to provide high-quality education. 

The collaborative efforts of all stakeholders will be crucial in shaping a resilient and responsive education system for the future.

Want to talk to our team about getting your estate data? 

Get in touch



Customer Portal

© 2022 School Property Matters