Each year, London Councils produces a detailed model to estimate the number of new mainstream school places required to meet demand in the capital. This section outlines the main trends in the pupil numbers and shortfall underpinning this model.

Pupil numbers

Our graphs show London continues to experience faster rates of pupil growth than the rest of England at both primary and secondary level. Between 2010/11 and 2019/20, overall pupil numbers are set to have grown by 23 per cent in London – compared to 14.5 per cent nationally.

Preliminary evidence from the 2017/18 admissions round suggests that the number of pupils at primary level is starting to fall much earlier and faster than expected; between the 2016/17 and 2017/18 academic years, pan-London on-time primary applications fell by around 3.3 per cent. The extent to which this recent trend will impact on the primary shortfall in future depends on the scale and location of any new capacity created.

Why is this happening?

There are likely to be multiple drivers of the apparent fall in primary numbers and different factors will apply in different sub-regions. For example, house prices may affect traditional patterns of migration or drive families out of certain boroughs; in other areas there may be an early demographic impact from the decision to leave the EU.

As these changing patterns of demand at primary level materialise, there will be new challenges for boroughs to manage. An over-supply of places reduces the viability of existing schools and, in the most severe cases, could result in reduced curriculums or even the closure of some schools. And if this change is happening at the same time as uncoordinated delivery of new schools via the free school programme we could be looking at significant oversupply of places in some areas, particularly at primary. This is why, as we outline in the Meeting demand section, it is so important that free schools are only set up in areas where there is demand for new places.


These pan-London trends mask variation across different parts of London, and trends in the demand and supply of school places will vary between and even within boroughs. As already outlined, primary level forecasts are expected to be particularly subject to change and should be treated with caution.

The graphs below shows the results of our primary and secondary model by borough and also the total London school places shortfall by year. At this more granular level of analysis, shortfall projections are particularly uncertain and subject to change. However, our map illustrates that the easing of the primary shortfall is not uniform across London. East London boroughs in particular will continue to face a substantial shortfall in primary places, often driven by large-scale new developments. At secondary level the regional trends are more mixed, but again there is a similar area of high demand in East London.  

Key recommendations

  • Provide London with additional funding for school places of £1 billion over the next six years – through a combination of additional basic need funding and the central funding of places through the free school programme
  • Ensure that London receives a proportionate and sufficient share of the basic need pot in line with its share of demand for places
  • Provide four year basic need allocations to enable local authorities to be able to plan for secondary school places in sufficient time

Download our full report

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