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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

London’s population of young children – current and future

The GLA demography team just released a report that examines the demographic evidence around trends in the population of young children (age 0 to 10) in London.

We wrote this report to examine the truth behind media reports of primary schools in Inner London needing to merge or close due to insufficient pupils. Also, some articles have described schools in parts of London as being under pressure due to many young families moving there. Our findings are intended for those working in central, regional or local government, or in civil society, who need them for planning. We used data from official sources to examine patterns in components of population change – births, domestic migration, and international migration – as well as population characteristics such as housing tenure.

Births are the most obvious demographic factor to consider as potentially influencing the number of primary-school-age children. We found that the number of births in London has been falling since a peak in 2012. While this decrease is in line with the trend across the whole country, the fall has been steepest in Inner London. When we calculated “Total Fertility Rate” (TFR, the average number of children born to each woman) we found the TFR has fallen dramatically since around 2010.[1] We also analysed the age at which women are having children, and found that across the country women are having children at increasing older ages. Both the highest average age, and greatest rate of increase in age of mothers at childbirth, were in Inner London.

We believe economic factors significantly affect the number of births in London, partly through their influence on decisions by potential and current parents of young children about where to live. So we infer it’s unlikely the number of births will rebound in the next few years.

Migration is also key to our investigation. We found that for some Inner London boroughs, the population between ages zero and 10 years fell by 45 per cent between the two census dates of 2011 and 2021. With respect to age, we found that London’s current pattern of domestic migration is the same now as has long existed, with a peak outflow of children age 0 – 5 years and of young adults. But values of net outflow (the difference between the number leaving London to move elsewhere in the UK and the number arriving in London) have steadily increased over the last decade. Since the high cost of living, including that of housing, is probably a key push factor for young people and families leaving London, it’s likely that the current pattern of net outflow of current and potential families from Inner London will continue. Together with the reduction in births, this will result in reduced numbers of primary school age children.

In contrast, it’s harder to pin down what will happen with respect to international migration, and thus its influence on the population of young children is not clear. Patterns have changed due to the Brexit referendum in 2016 and changes to immigration rules in January 2021. The recent net outflow of EU nationals may lead to a fall in demand for school places, but increased net inflow of non-EU nationals could partially offset this, and future trends are uncertain.

Finally, our analysis of household characteristics using census data was helpful. We found that between 2011 and 2021 the proportion of households with at least one dependent child has fallen in Inner London, while the proportions of households in the wealthiest groups have increased. We feel this indicates that poorer families, and families with young children may need to move out of Inner London where it is most expensive, or do not settle there if moving from elsewhere in the UK or abroad.

What does this all mean for the future?

Overall, we believe the most likely scenario is for the size of the primary-school-age population to continue to decrease over the next decade in London. This fall will likely affect an increasing number of Inner London boroughs, and some Outer London boroughs. In contrast, a small number of Outer London boroughs, with a better supply of affordable housing, are likely to experience an increase in primary-school-age children.

So, yes, the articles in the media were correct in their general speculation. For numeric forecasts, please consult the London Councils report.

What are our next steps?

Our analysis to date has been high level. To complement the report, we intend to provide an online tool where users can access current data and trends at borough level. We continue to release estimates of recent births modelled from monthly patient count data. Later in 2024, we intend to publish pupil projections for London at sub-regional level. We would welcome your feedback so that our future analyses can better meet the needs of those using our resources.

[1] The apparent uptick of fertility in the figure is due to the temporary reduction in London’s population during the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to reverse when we can include the next years’ data.