Brexit has pushed families out of London, says head of closing Hackney school

Jo Riley is head of the 150-year-old Randal Cremer primary in Hackney (Handout)
Jo Riley is head of the 150-year-old Randal Cremer primary in Hackney (Handout)

The headteacher of a school that is closing because it has too few pupils warned some families have fled London because they no longer feel “wanted or needed” since Brexit.

Jo Riley, head of the 150-year-old Randal Cremer primary in Hackney, said some of the most marginalised families in the area are feeling “pushed out, unwanted and unheard.”

Ms Riley’s school is earmarked for closure next summer. It has an intake of just 15 pupils for September, despite a capacity for 60.

It is the latest in a series of school closures to hit London, highlighted in the Evening Standard, due to a combination of a falling birth rate, soaring London living costs, lack of housing, Brexit and a post-pandemic exodus to the countryside.

But Ms Riley said these explanations do not reflect the “human faces” behind the falling pupil numbers.

She pointed to a Romanian family with seven children – five of whom were pupils at her school – who returned to Romania after the Brexit vote because of the change in mood of the city, leaving five spare places at her school which have not been filled.

The lack of housing in Hackney forced a further 31 “beautiful Afghani refugee children” to leave her school after being “dispersed” across the country, she said.

She added: “Some of the most marginalised families in the borough are feeling once again pushed out and unwanted and unheard… I have got families that have lived in temporary accommodation for six years and have been told it will be 13 years before they are rehoused.”

Latest figures show 29 out of the 32 London boroughs expect a drop in demand for places in reception classes, with a predicted 7.3 per cent fall in reception numbers and a 3.5 per cent drop in Year 7 in secondaries by 2026.

Ms Riley told the Standard a combination of Brexit and lack of available housing has left families feeling unwanted in London.

Referring to the Romanian family who left in 2016, she said: “They were a lovely, lovely family…they just felt that Brexit had given them the message that they weren’t really wanted here.”

She said the family ran their own construction business, did not take benefits and rented their home privately, but could not afford to rent a bigger property.

She added that when the five children left her school her budget dropped by £30,000 – because schools are funded per pupil.

Referring to the Afghani refugees who joined the school in 2021 and have now all left because of a lack of housing, Ms Riley said: “Most of the girls had never been to school and they were just finding their feet and their voice, they were just incredible, and we watched as they disappeared to different parts of the UK. “I do really worry for London because we will end up with all those talented families and incredible children being dispersed across the country.”

She added: “I have been in education in London for 25 years and I have never known such an impact on the roll. Normally you have boom years and quiet years but this feels like it will be a lot more long term. I can’t see it picking up again for a long time.”