System for school places broken as deadline looms

‘System for school places broken as deadline looms’: More than half a million primary children in super-size classes,

 as schools try to cope with pressure on places

·         Over half a million children are now in super-size classes in primary school, as class-sizes continue to rise.

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As parents rush to meet the deadline for primary school applications today (15th January), new analysis published by the Labour Party reveals the worrying impact of the Government’s failed approach to planning for school places:

·         Of these, some 38,500 primary pupils are in classes of over 36 pupils and 15,000 are now in class sizes of at least 40.

·         The mounting pressure on school places is now starting to hit secondary schools, with figures showing an increase in the number of pupils in very large classes in the last year.

 

Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“The Government’s obsession with Free Schools, at the expense of opening other types of school, has made it harder and harder to ensure there are enough school places everywhere. This approach is clearly not working for parents up and down the country, with the result that come national offer day, some families applying today will go straight onto a waiting list with no offer of any school place and soaring numbers of children will continue to be crammed into ever-expanding classes, as the only option left for many schools in many areas.

“The current system for planning new places is essentially broken. It is now time for the Tories to abandon their unjustified fixation with Free Schools, which are evidently not addressing the growing pressure on school places nor driving up standards, and once and for all, put the urgent need for sufficient good school places in every local area first.”

Ends

 

Notes to editors

·         In their 2010 manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to create “small schools with smaller class sizes” and David Cameron has said “The more we can get class sizes down the better”.

“A Conservative government will give many more children access to the kind of education that is currently only available to the well-off: safe classrooms, talented and specialist teachers, access to the best curriculum and exams, and smaller schools with smaller class sizes with teachers who know the children’s names.”

Conservative Party Manifesto 2010, p. 51

“The more we can get class sizes down the better”.

David Cameron, Yorkshire Post Q&A, 18 April 2008

·         Yet new analysis of Department of Education figures reveal that over half a million children are now in super-size classes in primary school, as class-sizes continue to rise. Of these, some 38,500 primary pupils are in classes of over 36 pupils and 15,000 are now in class sizes of at least 40. This category includes class sizes of over 50, 60 and 70.

·         These classes do not include unusual situations like collapsed lessons or assemblies. They reflect ‘normal’ class situations as taught by one teacher.

“If the selected time is not appropriate to the school timetable (for example, if the selected time is when the whole school or a large proportion of the school is in an assembly with the head teacher) schools should choose an hour/period that reflects a ‘normal’ class situation that applies at the selected time each Thursday of the term (see paragraph 2.1). Do not record unusual situations (such as class amalgamation or school closure) which may have occurred on the census day due, for example, to staff training or absence, severe weather conditions or religious observances.”

DfE, 2014 to 2015 School Census Guide,https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/424091/2014_to_2015_School_Census_Guide_V_2_1.pdf

·         The mounting pressure on school places is now starting to hit secondary schools, with figures showing an increase in the number of pupils in very large classes in the last year.

·         Since 2010 the number of infants (key stage 1) taught in classes of over 30 has more than trebled to over 100,000. There are also over five times as many ‘titan’ primary schools (those with over 800 pupils) than there were in 2010.

·         The number of infants in large classes of over 30 is now the highest it has been for 15 years, before Labour first introduced tougher rules on class sizes.

·         Labour’s rules on class sizes have since been watered down by the Tory-led Government, which is allowing class sizes to soar indefinitely in areas facing pressures on school places.

“Schools can breach the limit in exceptional circumstances for 12 months on the proviso that numbers are brought down the following year. 
But that requirement has now disappeared from the School Admissions (Infant Class Sizes) Regulations – quietly introduced a year ago – in a move that gives heads more freedom to maintain 30-plus lessons for a number of years without having to employ more teachers. 
School leaders have admitted that growing numbers of heads were preparing to take advantage of the rule change to increase class sizes.”
Telegraph, 7 April 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9969834/More-infants-to-be-taught-in-supersized-classes.html

·         Despite the growing need for more primary school places, which the Tories have known about for years, by 2013 David Cameron had spent at least £241 million opening Free Schools in areas where there was no shortage of school places.[i]

·         This is despite the Conservatives saying in 2011 that a principle aim of the Free School programme is to ensure that the growth in pupil population at primary is addressed.

“Free schools will introduce innovation and higher standards to some of the areas that are desperately in need of new schools. They will also ensure that the growth in pupil population at primary, for which the previous Government failed to prepare adequately, is at last addressed with innovative new schools in the places that count.”

Michael Gove, Hansard, 11 July 2011, c21

·         The Government has had the forecast of need for additional school places in local areas for September 2015 since 2011.[ii] Yet over five years, the Government has allowed Free Schools to open in areas that are not experiencing shortages, at the expense of these local areas that are crying out for more school places.

·         As well as pressure on class sizes, schools feeling the squeeze on places have also been forced to convert music rooms and libraries into classrooms, build mobile classrooms on playground space and fields[iii] and even convert a double decker bus[iv] or a former police station into classrooms.[v] In some cases, the pressure on places is forcing children to travel further and further to school, some located miles away from where they live[vi], and even by taxi[vii].

·         Last year, some parents who applied on time were left with no offer of a school place come national offer day:

A couple of weeks ago, This Is Our Town Richmond confirmed that 114 children due to start primary school in Richmond in September have not yet been offered a place at any school. Steph Douglas’s son Buster is one of these children. She lives in St. Margarets and writes candidly about how life has been since National Offer Day. Here is her story:

It was National Offers Day for primary school places on Thursday 16 April

We’d looked at local schools and put six on the form, as advised, all within about a mile of where we live and all with great reputations. I’d prefer the first choice but we’d be happy with the others. I couldn’t understand the hysteria; people taking up religion and throwing themselves into community bake sales, renting home so they have an address within the school catchment. The palpable tension on Facebook and Twitter. Bryony Gordon from The Telegraph spole with a family who were selling their family home to send their child to a £4k per term private school. It felt as if the world had gone mad – this is school! Everyone goes!

Then we got an email and it said

“No offer possible.”

“Unfortunately it is not possible to offer a place for your child at any of the schools you stated as a preference in your application.”

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