Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

2020 Future: Impact of population change

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The last issue of Leader introduced a new ASCL project led by Robert Hill to plot the trends that will impact on school and college leaders in 2020, broken down into seven dimensions. For each dimension, a paper will be published on the ASCL website outlining the main issues. In addition to inviting comment from members, ASCL will hold a symposium to discuss each of the dimensions.

Future editions of Leader will introduce in turn each of the dimensions, starting in this issue with the first one - population growth.

Understanding the size, nature and structure of a country's population is the essential first base in planning the future of a public service, says Robert Hill. Following are the statistics and projections that inform our understanding of population growth.

  • Currently around 61 million people live in the UK - an increase of 5 million since 1971. This is due to a rise in the birth rate, increased life expectancy and migration.

  • By 2020 the population is projected to hit 67 million. Most of the population increase will be in the south of England.

  • The UK population is ageing and will continue to age as the baby boomer generation marches towards retirement. The number of people aged over 65 is expected to increase by a third by 2020 to 12.7 million and the number of over 85s by a half to 1.9 million.

  • In 2001 just over half the population described themselves as from a non-white minority ethnic group and the trend towards a more ethnically diverse society will continue as the birth rate for mothers born outside the UK is significantly higher than for other groups.

  • By 2021 a third of all households are expected to be single person households - many of them elderly people living on their own.

The government says that the scale of population growth means that an additional three million homes will have to be built over the next 10 years, though the impact of the recession is bound to affect these plans.

What will this mean for school and college leaders?

Planning for population change will be tricky. The number of 15-19 year olds will decline from 2009 right through to 2020, though the trend will reverse during the 2020s. The number of 10-14 year olds will also fall for the next few years but after 2014 the numbers will start to rise again (see chart).

The pattern is similar accross England and Wales with most regions seeing a decline in their overall 10-19 population. London is the only region likely to see a rise. The north west, on the other hand, is projected to see its population of 10-19 year olds decrease by 50,000 over the next ten years, equivalent to around 40 average-sized secondary schools.

Estimating the demand for school places will be further complicated by the impact of the demand for diplomas and the requirement from 2013 for all 17 year-olds (and from 2015 for all 18 year-olds) to remain in education or training.

The school workforce reflects in part the wider demographic trends in society. More than half of headteachers in England are over 50. NCSL estimates that 2009 will see 3,500 head teachers retiring. The number of retirements will remain high but gradually reduce, falling to 2,500 a year in 2016.

Teachers on the other hand are on average getting younger and are more likely to be female. Three-quarters of new teachers are women and a third of all teachers are women aged between 25-40.

Given that many women are now having children later, in their late 20s or 30s, this will pose schools with challenges in relation to managing maternity leave and incentivising women to return to teaching.

In terms of ethnic diversity the teacher workforce is not as representative of the school-age population as it needs to be. For every main minority ethnic grouping there are proportionately significantly fewer teachers than there are students.

Indeed an analysis of the growing ethnic diversity of the primary school-age population indicates that the disparity is likely to grow unless rapid steps are taken to increase the supply of more teachers from a minority ethnic background.

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Further reading

To read and contribute comments to the full position paper on population growth go to www.ascl.org.uk/futures You will also find information on the rest of the dimensions in the ASCL Futures project.

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders