Primary school admissions, 'super size' classrooms and 'titan' schools - what do you think?(40 Posts)
We've been asked to comment on today's reports that, as parents meet the primary school applications deadline today, more than 500,000 children are being taught in 'super-size' classrooms of more than 30 pupils. There's also an increase in 'titan' primary schools of over 800 pupils.
We'd love to know what you think about this. Are you worried about your child getting into the school of your choice in September? If you live in an over-subscribed area for primary schools, what would you like to see change about the application process?
Is your child in a class of 30-40 children or more, or at a 'titan' primary school and if so, how do you feel about it?
As ever, thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.
I am an (ex) teacher. When I was teaching it was in a school in London with 400 kids. It was considered to be a large school. This size school (2 form entry) is now standard.
My kids go to a local one form entry school.
I am really sad at the increase in the larger schools. At primary level, the sense of knowing everyone and having a family atmosphere is really good for our kids. Being able to fit the whole school into the school hall for important 'family' moments in the school is good too, as is the sense of support from older kids to younger when they know each other.
We have also spent time in a village school which was too small (lack of other kids of same age, lack of opportunities eg no football team)
I think 1 or 2 form entry is the right size at primary. Larger schools lose that intimacy, that community feel. I would prefer to see a new school next door, rather than double the size of the original school.
As to larger classes, well, having two classes alongside each other with a shared teaching set-up is nothing new, so one room, 2 teachers, 60 kids. There are pros and cons, but I don't have a problem. I do have a problem with classes of 30+ and one teacher.
Teachers are not super human, there is a limit to how many classes they can teach, and TAs are not the same as teacher, and so one teacher plus one TA is not enough
Two or three form entry schools with classes of 25-30 children would be my ideal.
However the consequence of restricting school numbers to that ideal would be to accept many children having to travel miles from home to school each day. There simply aren't enough school places to accommodate all local children in many cities and towns.
Some of our local schools now have 5 or more classes per year group. Nobody already at those schools was particularly happy about this level of expansion but the 60 or so families who get a place each year instead of having to travel by bus to a neighbouring borough are delighted.
It does cause problems: loss of music or I.T rooms, staggered lunches, building work disruption, crowded playgrounds and the loss of the community feel that comes with a smaller school. However the parents complaining most were those who were secure in the knowledge that they had a sibling or lived close enough to secure a place and not risk being one of the ones who would otherwise faced a daily commute of miles with a 4 year old (and possibly baby siblings too).
I agree with you tiggy, but taken a philosphical view as it were, where 2-3 form entry is the ideal, then the government needs to be much more active in getting school sites.
Rather than building schools miles away, maybe they should be compulsory purchasing buildings to convert?
Maybe our planning regs should include space for school for every xx number of houses built?
Maybe school playing field should be protected instead of being sold off? A large playing field could accommodate a new primary school and still have space left over.
How is it that in our area (not London) they built a huge new estate, with no school provision at all, and no space reserved for it etc etc. the council made no school provision either, and then when surprised by the number of kids looking for schools the next September, the councils response was 'we didn't expect families with school age children to move into these houses because they are only 2 bedrooms'
So, yes, I would rather they added the classes on than left kids without places, but an ideal is 2-3 form entry with 25-30, and the PLANNING should be proactively towards that, rather than reactively adding bulge classes.
I agree that better planning would help enormously! The estate we live on was built nearly 20 years ago, and is massive. They did build a primary school in the middle of it, but only 1 form entry. The school is massively oversubscribed and there have been debates about increasing the number of admissions for the past few years, but nothing has yet been done.
How anyone thought that an estate this size of thousands of almost entirely family homes would only produce 30 kids a year was bloody stupid.
Quite often planning permission is accompanied by an agreement to pay £X towards local schooling but a number of factors mean that doesn't equate to new schools.
LAs can only expand existing schools and cannot easily open new ones. All new schools are presumed to be Free Schools and it isn't entirely possible to open an brand new LA controlled school. New places are therefore created by bulge classes and permanent expansion of existing schools
LAs can have crazily optimistic projections about housing and schools. They look at the birth rate but assume a set percentage of people will go private so won't need a school. This happens less and less in hard economic times. They may assume those with babies in flats will move out of the area to a bigger house so won't need a local school but people don't. They stay with toddlers and children in flats because they cannot afford to move. Councils assume new houses will be purchased by people with children of all ages so won't generate undue demand on schools but, if the new housing is near a great primary school, of course people with 3 and 4 year olds will target it far more than others.
The bigger pressures are all about housing. New homes, house price crisis, people who cannot get on the housing ladder etc... There is far less drive to build new schools because the school place crisis affects far fewer people and usually only once or twice in their lifetime. In other words far fewer people care about the issue and even if they are affected by it directly, they quickly forget their dilemma once they've finally found a school place.
'Super-size' classes are not those slightly over thirty; anything up to 36 is manageable, depending on the space of the classroom.But thirty is preferable, although it rarely happens in Junior schools. It is the ridiculous impositions, such as marking all pieces of work in three different coloured pens (never red), filling in endless target sheets: 'I can spell words that are usually misspelt'(?)and weekly individual plans for far too many pupils, that add to the workload, not two or three extra children.
Larger schools are able to offer better facilities, but it depends on the size of the classrooms, cloakrooms, storage facilities and outdoor space.
The 'cosy' atmosphere that parents like in small schools is quite often stifling and restrictive, and facilities and resources are limited.
It is teachers who should be consulted, not parents; teachers work in a variety of settings and schools and see the long-term effects; parents have pre-conceived notions and usually little experience; politicians are concerned with promises and votes, and getting housing built, and Governors with money.
New housing estates are erected with the promise of new schools, but they are a long time coming, as they wait to see how many children an estate will yield. With this ridiculous proviso that only academies can expand, the problem will simply get worse. (Thank you Michael Gove).
Don't dismiss mobile classrooms; parents get into a terrible state about them but they are frequently better than small, cramped, dark classrooms in the main buildings. I, and a succession of classes, actively preferred ours to the cramped, open plan classrooms with small windows, low ceilings and lights on all day in the new building. They were light, sunny and airy, had windows that could be opened without causing draughts, doors that could be closed, their own cloakroom and storeroom and no external noise. But parents, who had never set foot in them, regularly campaigned to get them removed. They finally succeeded, and at the expense of the computer suite and the library they have their the new classrooms:cramped, internal, scant daylight and fresh air coming via corridors and a courtyard, dripping with condensation, low ceilings, no cloakroom and no storage. They are also extremely noisy.
All the schools in our old area were three or four form intake. DD howled and howled at all the open days - one school had one enormous open space for all three nursery classes, so ninety children running around, it was utterly chaotic.
We found a school further away that was smaller, and she was fine.
Plus, the three and four form schools are all schools that have been expanded, so they've built on the playground etc, very little outdoor space, lunches are done in shifts.
DD is in a 4 form entry junior, which will take a bulge class next year.
I think the bigger school actually has lots of benefits - she has a lot of opportunities and have a wide friendship circle (actually several circles).
My issues are logistical - school run time is a nightmare (even if you don't drive) and the school has had to give up communal space to accommodate extra classes. I have no idea where the bulge class is going. If the infrastructure was there, I would find it fine.
Where we used to live, 2011/2012 was recorded as having the highest birth rate in years. Stories in newspapers and so on, talk of what to do re schooling in the future. What actually happened? Nothing. You can't get into a local school unless it's on your doorstep, and even then, you're lucky. At the same time, a whole new housing estate sprung up. Extra school? No. Seems no one thought of that. I'm quite glad we moved! They're now deparately trying to add in extra classrooms and so on to existing schools, but the plain truth is that there is no space, no playground space, and the schools are not fit for purpose. They're old buildings, it's built up around and about and so playgrounds are crammed with portacabins. And the worst thing? The local council act as if it's a shock to the system. No it isn't. 5 years' notice seemingly wasn't enough...
My Year 1 son is at a 3 form entry school. There are 31 children in his class. The school was under pressure to expand or at least take a bulge class but there simply isn't space. Instead they have built a facility for children on the autistic spectrum who can spend time in mainstream classes as appropriate.
I actually like a bigger school. Our son's teacher this year is newly qualified and I like that she has the support of two other more experienced teachers teaching the same year group. I think there are more opportunities. I can see downsides too - the nativity cast of 90 still only has one Mary, one Joesph and a LOT of villagers (last year son was Narrator 15).
The issue round here is things like pubs, petrol stations, offices and car parks are disappearing and flats are springing up. Last year the maximum distance a child allocated a place on distance lived was 0.3 miles and yet the traffic at drop off is a nightmare (we walk). 48 of the 90 places went to siblings. Lots of people play the system by moving into the area and out again quickly and a greater supply of rental flats is just going to exacerbate that.
Just heard this discussed on You and Yours on radio 4.
I hadn't realised that the Local Authority is NOT ALLOWED to build new schools. They are dependent on Free schools opening, or academies expanding. Except they have no control over the expansion of academies who are self governing.
How is this possible? How is it possible that we as a society have no control over the planning or provision of school places? It si completely ridiculous.
Some of those pubs/petrol station etc that CorBlimey mentions need to be purchased and turned into schools. It just isn't possible to continually expand existing schools.
There is another issue though.
When I started training in 1990, there was a school near us that was the biggest in Europe (it was only 600 kids or so, tiny by today's standards) brand new, purpose built flag ship school on a new estate we will call NewBuild. A few years later the demand for places was so high that they built School2 across the road.
10 years later the number on the rolls of the Newbuild School and School2 had plumeted, and when I moved back to the area a few years ago, I read with interest that the 2 schools had merged and now have a 2 form entry.
The reason is that those families that bought their houses on the Newbuild Estate are still there, their kids went through primary and secondary and have now flown the nest and Mum and dad still live in their nice 3 bed house they bought 20 years ago.
That is a more common problem than we appreciate, and there is an argument for core school buildings with the possibility of expanding/contracting the number of classrooms by using mobile etc classes. These classrooms can then be used by secondary schools as the bulges pass on through them.
When my son started at school the year before last there was talk of making it into 3 form entry. I went to the consultation and personally thought there was a lot of nimby talk. I mean if you work, how far to do you want the school to be away from your home? Because you havr to factor in logistics at some point.
Anyone here got 2 children in different primary schools? Because that would be a nightmare.
If you have an excellent teacher and a well behaved class probably upto to 40 is fine. However given its good to get a social mix and the teaching profession is hemorrhaging good teachers probably a class size of 25 is needed. Also reduced funding means TAs are being lost so it can end up being one adult in the room.
Similarly if you have a brilliant head they can get to know each child in a school of 400+ children but the babyboomer heads are retiring and teachers are not finding headships attractive
There were plans in the 2000s for estates with schools included but due to nymbyism most plans were rejected and then the recession meant that all remaining plans were shelved. Now there is piecemeal building all controlled by private developers who will be able to get out of building rented housing and infrastructure.
LAs need to be able to build schools and be in control of admissions to make sure everything is equitable and above board. Its more efficient and I suspect cheaper in the long run
dd1 is in a class of 36
the PAN for the school is 35, and all KS2 classes are 35 (dd1's is 36 due to appeal), with KS1 children taught in mixed year groups. This was our first choice school.
the school does appear to have and make good use of excellent TA provision to do lots of small group teaching, and it doesn't appear to have adverse affected things from the point of view of OFSTED or achievement. The classrooms can feel a little tight, but they have adequate computers, music rooms etc and lots of outside space including woodland and an allotment.
Locally, I could have opted for a school with a PAN of 20, or one with 60 (taught in two forms of 30) , but class size is such a small part of the overall picture that I found it was like comparing apples with oranges.
I live in Islington. In south Islington there has been a significant increase in reception age children. So far the Borough has been able to respond by expanding existing schools, choosing to expand only schools which were either Ofsted "outstanding" or "good". However it has been difficult for the Borough to find the money and it has put pressure on other budgets. Meanwhile in North Islington, where there is capacity available in local schools to expand them - one in particular is "outstanding" and could be expanded at low cost - a legacy of past falling school rolls when schools were larger in the past, and were reduced in size this will not happen.
This is because a Free School has been established at very large cost to the taxpayer (Whitehall Park School) - by the time it is finished an existing building will have been demolished, and a new school built. This has created a local surplus of places - the school which has been open two years and so should have 120 pupils now only has 74 - Islington did ask for the new Free School to be built in the centre of the Borough and offered a site, but this was refused by the for profit Company, Bellevue Ltd which "sponsored" the school, who preferred the site it is now on. (Sponsorship by the way means they control it, they do not put any money in, that all comes from the taxpayer, but they do get to sell services to the school)
So what I have just described as happening in Islington is, in my view a misallocation of resources, where the location of a new, free School was determined against local council wishes, not put where there is a growing issue of place shortage, but put in an area of the Borough without a shortage.
It's all very well saying that a good teacher with a well behaved class could teach a class of 40, but that would represent a huge increase in workload in terms of marking and paperwork.
With large classes, teachers can't get to know the kids as well either.
It's not just about the actual classroom management.
My children are at a 2 form entry primary school in London, which has an expansion site a short distance away that is 4 form entry. For admissions they're treated as 2 separate schools, but technically they are a single school, and have over 1000 pupils (or will do, once all years in the expansion site have been filled - currently only up to year 3).
It actually works really well across both sites. On the whole parents are very positive about how it's all working. When I applied for my DS1's school place, the two sites were positions 1 and 2 on our form - it was great to have the expansion site as back up, since there are virtually no non-sibling places at the original site. Both sites also operate the very sensible policy of supervision from 8.40am (as well as breakfast and afterschool clubs) - as soon as the gate is unlocked. So for parents having to get to another school, it would just about be possible if you dropped at our school on the dot of gate-opening-time.
I think the bigger school actually has lots of benefits
So do I. Dd is at a 3 form entry primary school and they have lots of specialist teaching (Art, PE and French) and great facilities. Dd has friends not only in her class but across the year group. If there are any friendship issues there are lots of other people to play with.
She used to attend a 1 form entry school, it got quite cliquey in the class especially the girls. And there's nowhere to go if that happens!
On t quite a titan primary, but our 3 form intake primary was amazing. The head was in the playground morning and afternoon, and knew most of the kids by name. Large doesn't need to be inpersonal, with the right leadership team. It was an amazing school, and I'm sorry we relocated. When we return home, we won't get back in, as their places were snapped up in less than a week.
BUT, we need to be thinking what happens to these primaries when this bulge finishes. Our old town is heading for a secondary melt down. Can primaries be built (2 next to each other??) with the aim of easy conversion to a secondary? Is this even possible?
Why are most primaries one story?
We also need to focus on training and keeping the best of the teachers, not alienating them.
steppemum surely it depends on the TA? My DD is taught by a teacher with about 5 years experience and a TA who has a degree in education and 10 years experience. They are both, in my limited experience excellent on the whole. The younger DD is not so fortunate, being taught by an NQT who has the most appalling general knowledge but who seems to have a good grasp of what my DD is like and what makes her tick.
New school opened here 2 years ago. It was built 15 years after the estate was started. And had to be an extension of a existing school, situated miles away. It shares a headteacher. Both schools are excellent. I can't see a problem with large primaries on one site if they are properly built with adequate playground space suitable for that number of children. You could have several dining halls for example, and dedicated play space for each year group. My fear is that by providing large schools it will be seen as a way of saving cash and done on the cheap
We aren't in the UK at the moment and our DC are in a school system where the smallest primary school is 600+. Despite our fears (having moved them from an expanding 1 form entry school), they both love having the benefits that a big school offers, such as better facilities (large hall with proper auditorium facilities; multiple large sports halls) and the opportunities for wide and differing social circles.
BUT they are in small classes: DD is one of 18, DS is one of 20 (22 is considered big here), and this makes all the difference, I think. They get the security and attention of being a big fish in a small pond along with having a huge ocean to swim in too. In fact, this is the model that many independent schools have been pushing for many years, isn't it....?
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