Britain’s baby boom must be treated as a national asset

Britain should be spared the population decline that threaten several of our European neighbours, but inevitably there are downsides

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The Independent Online

That Britain’s birth rate is rising faster than at any time since the 1950s is positive in very many ways.

It suggests a degree of confidence about the future that reflects well on our quality of life and stability. It means that Britain should be spared the labour shortages and population decline that threaten several of our European neighbours. It should also sow seeds of dynamic economic growth.

Inevitably, though, there are downsides, and one of these was highlighted yesterday by the National Audit Office. It found that more than 250,000 more school places would be needed in England by autumn 2014. Such an increase not only costs money; it also requires space and more trained primary teachers. Ministers claim to be abreast of the problem, citing the greater variety of schools, including free schools, they are encouraging. But any rapid increase in provision risks compromises on quality, which is already patchy. And the free schools, which depend on local initiatives, are not always in areas where extra places are most needed.

The risk is of a growing divide between areas where parents have a choice of good primaries and areas where, in practice, they have none. A child’s first school is crucial. Primary education is no place for skimping, either on funding or standards. Our new baby boom is a national asset, but it must be nurtured.