Classrooms bursting!

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Pupils, parents and teachers demonstrated outside St Andrew & St Francis Primary School during a teachers’ strike against the school being forced to become an academy
Pupils, parents and teachers demonstrated outside St Andrew & St Francis Primary School during a teachers’ strike against the school being forced to become an academy

SCHOOL classrooms are at bursting point, with half a million pupils squeezed into classrooms with more than 40 in a class.

Labour Party analysis highlighted the crisis, where 38,000 children are in classes of over 36 and 15,000 in classes over 40. This is a return to Victorian-style education, where classes are extremely big and children learned through repetition.

Teachers’ unions explain that the Tory policy of opening more and more privately run free schools and academies are the source of the problem. Teachers’ unions say that opening free schools and academies in areas where they are not needed puts severe pressure on comprehensive schools in working class areas with high population densities. They are calling for primary and secondary education to be brought back under local authority control.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT said: ‘The government haven’t created enough school places. You need to build enough places and they need to be in the right places. They have been obsessed with academies and free schools. It is where all their attention has been and they have allowed free schools to open.

‘Very many of them opened in places where there wasn’t the same need as in other areas and that is why you are seeing this huge pressure on class sizes in particular areas. Local authorities have lost a dramatic amount of power since the coalition government of 2010.

‘They can no longer open schools under their own accord. We would like them to be able to do that, so that if there is a need, a council can just open a school where the need exists. There are all sorts of pressures and problems that happen as class sizes get bigger.

‘Frankly, I think that they should be lower than 30. I think that 30 should be an absolute maximum and class sizes of 27, 26 … we would like to get down to 20, for the NUT. When you get to these bigger classes, teachers can not give the same individual feedback; they can’t give the same individual support.

‘As I said earlier, in many schools the classroom simply won’t be big enough to undertake practical mass activities and other practical work, so you lose out on areas of the curriculum. Huge problems come in. Government should have a target and they shouldn’t have class sizes at these levels.’

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘As long as the government continues to ignore local authorities and refuses to allow schools to be built where they are needed, the intense pressure on school places will continue to escalate.

‘It means increasing numbers of parents will not be able to find any school for their children, certainly not in the first round of admission applications. This will increase parental stress, worry and concern.

‘There is a limit to how far existing schools can expand. Many are already using school halls, music rooms and gyms for classrooms and building over their playing fields to accommodate extra children. Children are being taught in portacabins and increasingly large classes, and until the government tackles the lack of school places these problems will get worse.’

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said: ‘The current system for planning new places is essentially broken. Some families applying today will go straight on to a waiting list with no offer of any school places, and soaring numbers of children will continue to be crammed into ever-expanding classes. The gap between the class sizes and demand is growing.’

• Almost a third of teachers in Birmingham and the West Midlands are bringing food into school to feed hungry pupils. Teachers are also giving pupils money from their own pockets to buy meals. A quarter of 800 teachers polled in the region said some children were so hungry in class that they were falling asleep at their desks.

The study, by cereal brand Kellogg’s and backed by YouGov, found 34 per cent of teachers nationwide had experienced children crying from hunger. Three in 10 said they were so horrified, they had brought food in for pupils, while 80 per cent said they saw children coming into school hungry at least once a week.