By 2015 there will be an extra 445,000 pupils in UK schools. The last time the education system had this demand for places was during the 1970s at which point there were 5,500 more schools than we currently have.
The DfE has pledged to put an extra £4bn of funding into areas facing the greatest pressure. They have also relaxed building regulations so that schools do not need as much space. As pressure tends to be the greatest in urban areas, the plans are to expand existing schools rather than build more. This will see schools with 3 to 4 form entry schools (90 to 120 pupils in each year group)
In extreme cases schools may be even larger, such as Nansen Primary in Birmingham, which is planned to expand from 630 pupils to 1,260 ; moving to six forms per year group.
How will supersize Primaries affect children? Should parents be concerned?
Not surprisingly there are mixed views on this:
Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby backed the expansion of existing schools as the best response to the places shortage.
“However, there are limits to how far a primary can grow and still retain the ethos that makes it special and welcoming to young children. Primary heads are more than capable of handing the logistics, but it is the culture and pastoral care that are at issue,” said Mr Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.
“Primaries can run well at 500 or even 700 pupils, but then you’re stretching it.”
Many parents of children in larger schools reported that their children had access to specialist teachers and facilities and that their children grew in confidence.
Some parents and teachers worry that the ethos of many primary schools could be threatened if schools become very large. Will teachers know all the children’s names? Will children know all the teachers names? Many schools primaries successfully build a caring ethos around this familiarity which children find reassuring. Would very young children feel lost in an environment where they are not known well and many adults are unfamiliar to them?
A survey of mothers’ experiences on Netmums found concerns about children being “overwhelmed” at big schools.
Parents reported their reservations about primary schools that in some cases now had more than 700 pupils. It is agreed that many of these schools are excellent, staffed by committed staff and often have resources and facilities beyond the reach of smaller schools. However the anonymity than can come with large numbers gave rise to worries of bullying.
It can make smaller children feel overwhelmed,” said one of the Netmums contributors, who expressed concern about less attention to individual pupils and fears about bullying and gangs.
“I think that big schools will definitely affect some children, especially quiet, less confident kids,” wrote another.
A teacher at one such Primary school was confident that standards in the classroom were not affected but accepted that it was impossible to know every child’s name and that this did cause discipline issues, particularly at playtimes.
With the inclusion of children with SEN also rising, how would teachers be aware of individual children’s specific need? I taught for many years at a school which varied between 2 and 3 form entry; I did know most of the children’s names and I certainly knew which children had issues which could affect their behaviour around school and dealt with any discipline issues appropriately and with sensitivity.
There is also a political slant to the need for more Primary school places; the Government has a “presumption” that new schools should be free schools or academies, outside of local authority control. Many in the educational sector are concerned that this is increasing privatisation in UK schools.
Another issue which concerns me is falling numbers within teaching recruitment. Will schools be able to find all the extra teachers that will be required? Applications for Secondary teacher training places were down by nearly 10% last year and there is evidence which shows that many trainee teachers drop out of their courses or finish but choose not to go into teaching. Will this cause problems in the future?
Personally, I would have had reservations about taking my children, at 4 years old to a school that they were starting the same day as 120 other children. I think they would have been totally overwhelmed. I am happy that all the teachers at my children’s schools know their names and that they are part of the same family. One of the aspects I enjoy most about teaching is the relationship you build with the children you teach; I was at my last school for 14 years and knew most of the children. When I left, losing that “family feel” of the school was the most difficult thing about going. I don’t know that I would have felt the same about a school of over 1000 children.
How would you feel about your child attending a Primary school with over 1000 pupils? Any thoughts and feedback welcome.
- Primary School’s hit 1,000 mark (disclose.tv)
- Parents ‘fear supersize primary’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Rules on infant class sizes ‘should be axed’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- A fifth of primary schools at bursting point (but if you move to the country there are plenty of places) (dailymail.co.uk)