One thing it’s sadly struggling to offer, though, is education. This morning London Councils published the latest in a series of hysterical reports pointing out that the city has, literally, more children than it knows what to do with. By 2015-16, the number of children in London will exceed the number of school places to teach them in by 90,000. The next year, that shoots up by nearly a third, to 118,000.
This is a national problem, of course: last month the National Audit Office repeated its warning that the country as a whole would be 250,000 school places short within 18 months. But, it’s fair to say, London’s got it worst. The city makes up something like 13% of the British population, yet is facing 42% of the shortage. London Councils concludes that the city needs an extra £1 billion to solve this problem.
How we got into this mess is a matter of some debate. Birth rates have been growing for more than a decade. The recession has made people less likely to leave the city for suburbia when they have kids. The fact London’s population grew by nearly 1 million people in 10 years and nobody seemed to notice was no doubt a contributing factor, too. (The right-wing press and those lovely people at Migration Watch know exactly who they blame, of course.)
All of this, though, should be manageable, and the fact it hasn’t been is a mark of humiliating political failure by, well, just about everyone. The last government spent a fortune building very impressive, but tragically few, secondary schools, while entirely ignoring the demographic bulge about to hit the primaries. The coalition scrapped all this. But it also scrapped most of the budget meant to pay for school buildings, and has disproportionately focused its efforts on its pet policy of opening ‘free schools’. A lot of these, vexingly, are in areas that already have quite enough school places already.
The result of all this is unlikely to be gangs of feral children, roaming the streets because no one taught them their times tables. What it will mean is bigger class sizes, more crowded schools, and prefabs sprouting up all over the place. We’ll also see a growing number of lessons taught in ad hoc environments like converted offices and retail environments, rather than in anything that you’d actually recognise as a school.
In the long term, though, the problem is only going to get worse. Last February, a “demographic consultant” predicted to the London Assembly’s Planning Committee that the city’s population would hit 10 million over the next two decades. That means a 25% increase in the number of kids. They can’t all be home schooled.
Image courtesy of ChrisGoldNY, taken from the Londonist Flickr pool