In a chat yesterday it was suggested I should make a note of the rapid increase in the number of babies being born and the implications for construction, or not as the case may be.
This chimed with me, as I had recently been told that they will need two more classrooms at the primary school my son is at by the time my daughter attends.
I noted also a piece by the Guardian in 2005 about how a falling birthrate threatened school closures. “Headteachers now face 'some very difficult choices', said a source at the Department for Education and Skills,” says the article. And it seems they face difficult choices again, only very different ones.
So, it seemed rather apt to look at the figures given the amount of speculation over whether the schools building programme will collapse under the weight of Government debt.
So what do the figures say?
The graph above shows the number of live births in the UK each year, taken from Social Trends data.
It is worth noting that there does seem to be a drop in the numbers when recession bites as we see from the peaks in the number of births in 1980 and 1990.
It’s too early to say whether this recession will mirror the previous two, but certainly the latest quarterly data suggest that the births for the first half of 2009 are down a smidgeon on the same period in 2008.
So what are the implications? Well simply, if class sizes are not to rise outrageously, there will need to be a large number of new classrooms for primary school kids. And, in time, more secondary school classrooms.
The population stats (see table below) show that in mid 2008 there were 283,600 more kids aged 0 to 4 than in mid 2004 when Partnerships for Schools – the schools capital delivery quango with the mission to deliver “21st century schools that are designed to help every young person achieve their potential” – was established.
Numbers of children by age 2002 to 2008
Source: Social Trends
And if we project forward, assuming a gentle decline in birth rate, it seems reasonable to assume that by 2010 there will be between 350,000 and 380,000 more kids aged 0 to 4 than in 2004. That’s a rise of about 14%.
The statistical bulletin for births in England and Wales put out by the ONS last December illustrates the scale of the impact on schools.
It noted: “There were nearly 19,000 more births in 2008 than 2007. This is a slightly smaller increase than seen in the previous two years, but still equivalent to over 700 additional classrooms when these children start school.”
Given that the number of births in the UK in 2008 was up by more than 70,000 on 2005's figure, whichever way you slice it there will be a very large number of extra classrooms needed as this bulge in the number of youngsters makes its way through the system.
There are of course other factors that will alter the numbers entering primary school, such as the recession reducing the number of children being privately educated pushing up the demand in the state sector.
Migration also swells the numbers. But it is too early to say what the net effect of this will be in the near future given the recession and reduced job opportunities. It might mean more young migrant families deciding to return to their own countries.
The big question, however, is whether we have reached the peak of a boom and how likely is it that this surge is temporary. If it is temporary, that might suggest a temporary solution.
Sadly though, the matter will be further complicated by the changing pattern in the distribution of young children throughout the UK, with internal migration being a major factor in determining where the pressure points occur.
For all that in the end the chosen solution will be come down to a balance of politics and economics.
And looking at the likely points where the Treasury axe will fall after the General Election, I suspect we are about to see the return of the mobile classroom, whatever the answer to the above big question.
But having been taught in mobiles during my years at school, I can’t say I minded. That’ll probably be the line I’ll give my daughter, if she’s bothered.
Anyway there’s a market opportunity for anyone that can come up with a satisfactory cost-effective solution.