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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 15:40 GMT
Secondary empty places increasing
Pupil working at desk
There are 792,000 empty places in schools in England
Secondary schools in England are seeing an increasing number of empty places - with surplus places up by 34,000.

The latest official figures, for the beginning of 2007, show that the total number of empty places for primary and secondary schools is 792,000.

The rise in surpluses in primary schools has flattened - but demographic changes now appear to be creating many more empty places at secondary level.

It means almost one in 10 secondary schools has 25% or more empty places.

Population changes

There have been fears over school closures and threats to rural communities from the loss of small schools caused by falling pupil numbers.

792,000 total
12% of primary places empty
8% of secondary
34,000 more secondary surplus places
386 fewer primary schools since 2006

Source: Figures for January 2007, DCSF

These have often focused on primary schools, because their smaller numbers make them more vulnerable.

But these latest figures, a snapshot of the school population one year ago, show that secondary schools are now facing a sharp increase in empty places.

Secondary schools, as well as facing a downward turn in overall pupil numbers, are also affected by school choice - and inner-city as well as rural areas can report particularly high levels of surplus places.

The biggest number of empty secondary places in a local authority is Kent, with 8,000 surplus places, which is 10% of the total.

Knowsley in Merseyside has 18% of secondary places empty and Hammersmith and Fulham in London has a 16% surplus in secondary places.

Lancashire has 7,400 empty secondary places and Essex has 7,000.

Across the country, there are 278,000 surplus places in secondary schools - 8% of the total number of secondary places and one percentage point higher than the previous year.

School closures

But this increase is not evenly spread - with the number of secondary schools which have at least a quarter of their seats empty rising from 268 to 320 out of a total of 3,297.

This total itself shows the impact of school closures - with 57 fewer secondary schools than in 2006.

The fall in numbers is also more apparent across the last few years. Since 2004, the number of pupils in secondary schools has dropped by 58,000.

The proportion of surplus places in primary schools remains the same as the previous year - 12% - and the proportion of schools with a quarter or more empty places also remains the same - 14%.

But these are proportions of a reduced number of schools - with 386 fewer primary schools than in 2006.

The projections for the next five years show a divergent picture - with a continued downturn in demand in some areas, but also increasing pressure on places in others.

As such, there are predicted to be more local authorities with a high number of surpluses, but there are also likely to be more authorities with a very low number of surpluses.

This weekend saw warnings about the risk of many more closures of small schools.

In response, a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Primary pupil numbers have fallen by approximately 10% since 1999, due to demographic shift and a declining birth rate.

"This presents both challenges and opportunities to local authorities to reassess how they organise and divide their schools."

Village schools 'facing closure'
27 Jan 08 |  Education
Empty school places reach 758,000
04 Jun 07 |  Education

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