Historic Lambeth girls school to shut due to shortage of pupils

·3-min read
St Martin-In-The-Fields High School for Girls (Handout)
St Martin-In-The-Fields High School for Girls (Handout)

A London girls school that has been running for more than 300 years has become the latest to announce it will close due to lack of pupils.

St Martin-In-The-Fields High School for Girls in Lambeth will shut to most year groups this summer and cease operating completely in 2024.

The Tulse Hill secondary school, which was established in 1699, had looked into taking male pupils or merging with another school in a bid to survive. But headteacher Josephine Okokon said these options “could not overcome the fundamental issue of falling pupil numbers that we are facing in Lambeth.”

It comes as schools across London are struggling to survive with falling pupil numbers, which has been blamed on a combination of a falling birth rate, Brexit, soaring living costs, lack of housing and a post-pandemic exodus to the countryside.

Latest figures from London Councils 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. Lambeth has been particularly badly hit.

Referring to the closure of St Martin-In-The-Fields, Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall, said: “This is very worrying and we cannot afford to lose more schools in Lambeth. The reality is that many families are forced to move out of the borough due to high rental and lack of affordable housing. I hope that this period is not too destabilising for the pupils and staff team.”

Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said she is “deeply saddened” by the closure, adding that the school is good “with a caring, inclusive ethos…my thoughts are with students, staff and parents and all affected by this news.”

The school, which currently has 388 students and 55 members of staff, will close to all current Year 7, 8 and 9 students at the end of the summer term. They will be allocated a place at another local school. St Martin’s will remain open until August 2024 for current Year 10 and 12 girls so they can complete their GCSEs and A-Levels.

Ms Okokon said: “There has been a significant decline in the number of young people living and going to school in Lambeth, meaning that we, along with other local schools, have seen our student numbers diminish in recent years. The number of pupils in Lambeth is not expected to increase for approximately eight years. Since funding for schools is awarded based on its pupil numbers, it is no longer viable for St Martin’s to continue operating as a school and deliver the level of education that our young people deserve.”

She added: “We understand that our rich heritage, alumni and keen involvement in the local community means that many other groups will also be impacted by the announcement of our closure – we are committed to offering transparency and support to all those affected.

“As an academy built on ‘Love and Learning’, we are determined to mitigate the impact of this event on the educational journeys of our students.”

She added that the school site in Tulse Hill is owned by a charitable trust whose objectives are focused on the welfare and education of children. “Those objectives will be central to any decisions made on the future use of the site,” she said.