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What really caused the crisis in school places?

This article is over 8 years, 8 months old
Some right wing commentators have claimed that immigration is to blame for the shortage of school places. Sadie Robinson looks behind the headlines
Issue 2351

Some 118,000 children in London could be without a school place by 2016 according to the London Councils group. 

Many parents in the capital have no idea where their children will be educated. 

The number of school-age children is growing faster in London than anywhere else in Britain. 

There were just under 1.1 million children in the education system in London in 2011-12. That’s estimated to rise to 1.25 million by 2016-17.

Yet the shortage of school places is no accident. It is the result of governments refusing to build enough schools.

The London Councils report says that London boroughs “face a funding shortfall of close to £1.04 billion to ensure that every pupil in London has a permanent school place up to 2015-16”.

That’s roughly the same as the amount that the Tories have ­overspent on privately-run academies. 

Meanwhile their free schools and academies threaten existing schools with closure.

Some remain intent on scapegoating immigrants for the crisis. But the impact of immigration is overstated.

 Between 2001 and 2009 some 1.38 million people moved to London from overseas. 

But even more, some 1.46 million, moved to London from elsewhere in the UK. In 2001, London’s share of total immigration to the UK was around 37 percent. By 2010 this had dropped to 28 percent.


 Natural change, the difference between births and deaths, has the most impact on London’s population. The capital is younger than the rest of Britain—meaning more births and fewer deaths.

In 2008-09 natural change led to 78,000 more Londoners—compared to 8,000 more from migration.

Anti-immigration campaigners seize on figures showing that the birth rate for non-UK born mothers is higher than that for UK born mothers. 

But “non-UK born” isn’t the same as recent immigrant. 

And research suggests that immigration hasn’t had any significant impact on the fertility rate—the average number of babies per mother.

The fertility rate of non-UK born women has stayed roughly the same while the rate for UK-born women rose.

The Office for National Statistics confirms that, “Since 2004 rising fertility rates among UK born women has been the largest single factor increasing the overall number of births”.

So why are women having more children? Research by the Rand Europe thinktank in 2011 pointed to welfare and tax policies.

Its report cited evidence that working family tax credits increased the fertility rate of women in couples by about 10 percent.

Immigration and a rising birth rate are not problems. We have spent years listening to warnings about low birth rates leading to a shortage of workers and an ageing population.

The Tories are making the situation worse for children in schools (see below). But as always, it’s more convenient for them to blame migrants.

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