Boom in primary age children piles even more pressure on struggling system

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THE NUMBER of children at primary school is expected to rise by a fifth over the coming decade, official figures suggest.

By 2020, there will be 4.8 million state primary pupils – 20 per cent higher than in 2011 and reaching levels last seen in the early 1970s, according to statistics published by the Department for Education.

The hike is being fuelled by a birth rate that has been rising since 2002, and is projected to continue to increase until 2014, the data suggests.

By 2015 there will be 4.39 million primary age children in England, a 10 per cent increase on last year’s figures.

The rise in pupil numbers is set to put more pressure on school places, which are already being severely stretched in some parts of the country.

Figures published earlier this month showed that a fifth of primary schools and a quarter of secondaries were full or had too many pupils last year.

In total, more than 4,000 schools across England were at or above the limit in terms of student numbers.

The Yorkshire Post has also revealed the number of primary age pupils in the region will rise by almost 50,000 in just five years with Bradford and Leeds facing some of the largest increases in the area.

Bradford Council’s executive member for children’s services Coun Ralph Berry warned that lessons could be held in “huts and portable buildings” unless the Government provided funding for councils to develop long-term plans to increase school capacity rather than doing it on a year-by-year basis through “basic need” funding.

The latest statistics, looking at national pupil projections, show that while primary numbers are set to increase, secondary school pupil numbers are set to fall.

The data shows that state-funded secondary school pupils aged under 16 reached a peak in 2004, and then began falling. In 2011, there were 2.84 million state-funded secondary pupils aged under 16.

This is expected to fall by around five per cent to 2.7 million by 2015, and then start to rise again as primary school pupils start secondary school.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said: “We’re more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers – over £4bn in the next four years.

“We are building free schools and letting the most popular schools expand to meet demand from parents.

“We are intervening to drive up standards in the weakest schools with thousands of empty places nationally – so they become places where parents actually want to send their children.”