Primary schools potential closure / merger plans (2023)

Hackney Council is considering consulting on closing or merging six primary schools, as a direct result of the significant decrease in pupil numbers which has caused some schools to face serious and irreversible financial pressure.

No changes would be made until September 2024 at the earliest.

Snapshot 2022-23

  • 58: number of primary schools in the borough
  • 2,900: overall number of reception places in Hackney, the equivalent of 97 classes
  • 634: number of vacant reception places in 2022-23, the equivalent of 21 classes
  • 589: ‘missing’ number of reception-aged children compared to 2014 - the equivalent of 20 lost classes
  • 5%: healthy reception vacancy rate
  • More than 20%: current overall reception vacancy rate
  • £6,484: the amount each primary school in Hackney loses per pupil vacancy this school year
  • £4.11m: funding missing this year from school budgets in Hackney as a result of vacant reception places
  • More than £30m: this school year’s overall loss in funding for the 58 primary schools in Hackney across all year groups, compared to what they would be entitled to if running with all classrooms full

State-maintained schools lose money for each empty school place, every single year.

It means less money for staff; less money for resources and equipment; less money to pay bills and to carry out maintenance work; and less money for extracurricular activities.

This income loss means it is no longer practical for some schools to function properly, and means that in time the education and offer to their pupils and staff will suffer as a result. It is our duty, as a Council, to ensure all pupils receive the very best education, and that all schools in Hackney remain strong and stable.

There are 58 primary schools in the borough, and the Council is now considering the potential to consult on closing two schools and carrying out two mergers of two schools each.

The potential changes are in no way a reflection on the work of the schools’ staff and leadership, or on the quality of teaching.

Potential closures

Schools that may close are:

  • De Beauvoir Primary School in September 2024
  • Randal Cremer Primary School in September 2024

Potential mergers

A merger (also known as amalgamation) brings together two or more schools to form one school - on one site and under a single leadership.

Four schools in the borough are currently considered to potentially merge into two schools on one of the existing sites.

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The schools that may merge are:

  • Colvestone Primary School and Princess May Primary School, onto the Princess May site in September 2024
  • Baden Powell Primary School and Nightingale Primary School, onto the Nightingale site in September 2024

Factors considered by the Council when considering possible alternatives and solutions include:

  • Schools most financially at-risk
  • Number of vacant places
  • Physical size of schools and suitability of sites to host a merger
  • Geographic partnership options (such as the existence of other schools within walking distance)
  • Whether new neighbourhoods and new-build estates will create significantly more need for school places in the future
  • Current Ofsted grading and projected outcomes of pupils
  • Community impact

Merging schools that have seen large decreases in pupil numbers brings significant benefits, including:

  • Creation of one new, stronger school community, maximising the funding available to it
  • Increased specialist expertise from a wider teaching team
  • Stronger finances
  • Increased resources
  • Increased potential for school improvement

Why is this happening?

These closure and merger plans are a very last resort. However, they are a direct result of the significant decrease in the number of local reception-aged children.

It follows a year-on-year decrease in numbers, a trend being seen in the majority of London boroughs. Factors that account for this decrease include falling birth rates, families relocating outside London (as a result of the pandemic and other factors including housing costs, the return to Europe of families as a result of Brexit), and competition from free schools. The Greater London Authority (GLA) projects the decline to continue until at least 2028.

In autumn 2014, there were only 10 unfilled reception places out of the 2,865 available in Hackney (0.35%). By 2022, this number rose to 634 unfilled reception places out of the 2,900 available in Hackney (21.86%).

Primary schools potential closure / merger plans (1)

The six schools that the Council is currently looking at saw their total number of unfilled reception places go from 6 out of 270 in 2014 (2.22%) to 101 out of 225 (44.88%).

Primary schools potential closure / merger plans (2)

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Significantly smaller class sizes might sound like good news, but the opposite is true, because this reduces the amount of money the school receives from central government.

Schools receive funding from the government based on the number of pupils they have.

Now some schools are facing a significant income loss. This means they have less money to:

  • Pay salaries
  • Provide the good quality of education that we expect for our children
  • Provide extracurricular activities
  • Access the most modern equipment and resources

It also means that some schools, especially small schools on larger sites, can no longer afford to continue to pay for maintenance, and escalating heating and lighting costs.

More than 90 percent of the borough’s schools are Ofsted-rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ and are considered some of the best in the country. We are proud of our children and young children, who areamong the first in the country for reading, writing and maths.

A school that is running at a deficit is an unstable learning environment, and it will almost inevitably see performance and standards fall over time. The Council has a legal duty to ensure that schools provide high quality places for the children; and if we do not act now, the future quality of education some children receive may start to suffer. We need to ensure all our schools continue to provide excellent education for our children, with the very best resources and facilities.

The Council, simply, can’t do nothing. This year alone, primary schools in Hackney are set to lose more than £30m in funding compared to what they would be entitled to if they were running with all classrooms full.

That’s why we now take the difficult decision to begin looking at closing primary schools which cannot afford to keep running, and amalgamating (joining two or more schools to form one school - on one site and under a single leadership) primary schools hardest-hit by falling pupil numbers and which would benefit most from a merger with another school nearby.

We know schools have very close ties to their local area and communities, that’s why closing schools is one of the most difficult decisions we can make, and not one we would ever choose to do unless we had no other choice. But the quality of education for our children, and strength of the whole school system in Hackney, must take priority.

What has the Council been doing to try to help these schools?

To best respond to the challenges that a changing pupil population brings, Hackney Education has put in place an Education Sufficiency and Estate Strategy, which sets the 2021-2031 priorities for the Council. Finding long term solutions to manage the falling rolls, together with the primary schools affected the most, is an important part of this strategy.

School leaders and the Council have been doing everything they can to manage the situation, including by combining different year groups in some schools, formally reducing and capping reception places. But this hasn’t solved the problem.

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The Council - alongside other London councils - asked the government for help by giving schools additional one-off funding to manage their falling rolls while numbers stabilise; and we also asked for greater powers to manage school places in free schools and academies, which are independent of the Council, in order to pool pupil place-planning resource.

The government, in response, increased funding per pupil nationally - by around 2 per cent per pupil - but that is simply not enough to sustain schools with large vacancy rates. Especially now, with the rising costs of energy and materials putting even more pressure on budgets.

What are you doing to support children and parents/carers?

The Council has offered the affected schools additional information to provide to parents and carers, and schools and Council staff will be holding a series of meetings over the coming weeks and months to talk to parents/carers directly about the plans.

  • De Beauvoir Primary School information pack
  • Randal Cremer Primary School information pack
  • Colvestone Primary School information pack
  • Princess May Primary School information pack
  • BadenPowell Primary School information pack
  • Nightingale Primary School information pack

A school closure will be a difficult and upsetting decision and process for many. That’s why we will limit periods of anxiety and uncertainty for children, families, staff and communities. We will help families plan for and identify an alternative school for their children and support staff to seek redeployment opportunities. We will also provide support for the education, choices and wellbeing of children and staff in the schools affected.

There are numerous good or outstanding primary schools with vacancies within walking distance in all directions of schools that may close. Should the closures go ahead, the Council will work closely to support families to make a planned transition to a new school for the start of the new academic year in September 2024. Families may also seek to secure a place at an alternative school via the ‘in-year’ admissions process at any time.

If a child has an Education, Health and Care Plan, their SEND key worker will work with the family directly to consult and determine another school that can meet their needs. Children with SEND but without a plan will be supported to ensure special transition arrangements are in place to help the move go smoothly.

In the case of a merger, all children will be transferred to the merged school if that is what the families want. This means they will remain with their friends. The Council will support families who do not want their children to attend the merged school to explore other options. We want to carry out changes in a way that minimises disruption and distress to children and families, communities and staff.

Transition plans would be developed by the executive headteacher and the headteachers of both schools, considering issues raised during the consultation and asking parents what they would like to happen, as well as learning from what has been effective for other schools that have gone through this process.

Will there be any redundancies of school staff?

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In the event of closures, the Council will do everything it can to help staff find alternative roles in schools across Hackney. However, as a last resort, some staff will be offered redundancy, which the Council hopes would be managed through voluntary redundancies and retirements.

In the event of a merger, we will work with the leadership teams of the affected schools to assess the full impact on staff.

Staff and all other relevant parties including trade unions would be consulted about any potential changes.

How will you ensure standards of teaching are maintained between now and any potential merger/closure?

The schools will receive regular support from the Council’s experienced school improvement team, all of whom are former or serving headteachers or school leaders as well including any additional support where needed. Staff will continue to access training and development in the same way.

Are other primary schools at risk?

We will continue to look and respond to falling pupil numbers. The Council has a legal duty to ensure that schools provide high quality places for the children. And we need to ensure all our schools continue to provide excellent education, with good resources and facilities.

We know schools have very close - sometimes multigenerational - ties to their local area and communities, that’s why proposing closing and amalgamating schools is one of the most difficult and distressing decisions we can make, and not one we would ever choose to do unless we had no other choice. But the quality of education for our children, and stability for our school staff, must remain a priority.

What if numbers increase again and more places are needed?

According to the numbers published by The Greater London Authority, the decrease in the number of primary school aged children will continue until at least 2028. When looking at the proposed solutions to respond to this trend, we took into account any planned development work that could impact the number of families with young children in the areas affected.

The Council has a statutory duty to provide enough high quality school places for all school aged children in the borough. We take our mission of making education work for every child very seriously, and we are always considering the best options when proposing changes that impact our schools.

Should future demand for reception places suddenly increase, there is existing physical capacity within schools to absorb additional children, and additional places could always be added if needed. It's also possible for additional accommodation to be built in the future on some school sites that have potential, in order to add more capacity.

Is there an impact on secondary schools?

There are no plans to close or merge secondary schools. There is currently a small surplus in secondary schools, which is set to peak in September 2025, before falling again.

What will happen next?

No closure or merger would take place before September 2024. This would only follow in-depth discussions as well as formal, statutory consultations with parents/carers, staff and leaders, and governors of the affected schools. We will also seek to speak to the children and young people affected by the potential changes.

Proposed timeline

NOTE: this timeline may be subject to changes

Date Event
January-May 2023 The Council talks to school leaders and governors to discuss plans and decide on next steps
April 2023 Public meetings are held with the school communities
May 2023 The Council’s Cabinet will make a decision on whether to consult on the proposals
June 2023 Informal consultation (subject to Cabinet decision) begins with parents, staff and governors, and those living and working in the area
September-October 2023 Results of the informal consultation are considered by the Cabinet who will decide whether to progress to formal consultation. Formal consultation involves the Council publishing a statutory notice of its intention to close / amalgamate the schools.

There is also a 28-day 'objection period' for those who object to the proposal to send their objections to the Council
December 2023 The outcome of the statutory notice period and any objections are considered by the Cabinet, which makes the final decision to proceed or not.
January-August 2024 School closure / amalgamation arrangements are made (subject to Cabinet’s decision in December 2023).
September 2024 Children begin at alternative schools.
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