Brexit exodus of EU nationals brings sharp drop in primary school applications

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Thousands fewer families applied to send their four-year-olds to London primaries this year, with EU nationals leaving after the Brexit vote a key factor, a report said today.

London Councils said it had predicted the impact of falling birth rates and soaring house prices on applications but that they had fallen “much earlier and faster” than expected.

The annual study, Do The Math, found that applications were down more than three per cent from 2016/17 to 2017/18, from 103,090 to 98,972.

Councillor Peter John, deputy chair of London Councils, suggested the Brexit vote had resulted in many EU nationals deciding to leave the capital rather than educate their children here.

He told the Standard: “The slowing in primary place demand suggests that the decision to leave the EU may already be having a negative impact on London’s working-age population.”

Town hall insiders said the fall was more severe in certain “pockets” of the capital with large populations of EU nationals. One borough suggested there had been a decline in applicants to Catholic primaries in an area where many Polish citizens lived.

Official figures last month found that net migration to the UK had fallen to its lowest level in three years as more EU citizens left the country in the wake of the referendum result.

Town hall chiefs issued a stark warning that if applications continued to fall head-teachers could be forced to scale back subjects, lease out classrooms, merge with other schools — or even permanently close their doors.

“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,” the report said.

London Councils, which represents all 33 local authorities in the capital, found there was still a shortfall in primary places but it was shrinking rapidly, down from 6,290 this year to a projected 3,002 in five years’ time. The report acknowledged a “variety of reasons” behind the slowdown including new school places created by the boroughs, a fall in the birth rate and rapidly increasing house prices.

However, it added: “The decision to leave the EU seems to be beginning to have an impact on changing local populations.” Uncertainty over Brexit was clouding the picture, it said. “Any permanent change or reduction in numbers will only be seen clearly when the details of the decision to leave the EU are more certain.”

The annual report also found that more than 36,000 extra secondary school places must be created in London over the next six years to keep up with demand.

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