‘PACKED LIKE SARDINES!’ – need for 250,000 pupil places says ATL

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SCHOOL students are being packed like sardines into state schools with a third of councils having to rent extra space in empty offices to accommodate them.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) teachers’ union has criticised the Tory-led government for allowing this crisis to develop, warning that learning in cramped conditions in unsuitable classrooms is ‘damaging the life chances’ of students.

And the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that there is an urgent need for 250,000 pupil places.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: ‘Every child deserves the best start for their education, in purpose-built school buildings with enough space in the classroom.

‘The current crisis in primary school places risks undermining that, damaging the life chances and opportunities for many pupils instead of guaranteeing a high quality education for all.

‘Michael Gove has promised swift action to tackle the shortage, yet is determined to continue with his Free School programme – opening expensive schools where no extra places are needed.’

The LGA says that the crisis is deepening with almost half of England’s school districts expected to have more primary pupils than places within two years.

It adds that some local areas will face a 20% shortfall in places by 2015.

Rising birth rates began the squeeze but uncertainty over funds has made it worse, the LGA says.

Its warning comes as the government opens 93 Free Schools.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘Free Schools are an entirely unnecessary expense.

‘At a time when there is a chronic shortage of school places around parts of the country, in particular at primary level, many are being opened where there is already a surplus of school places. This is a clear dereliction of duty by government.

She added: ‘The money and energy that is being put into Free Schools is simply wrong.

‘. . . The Government needs to stop this deception and focus on an education system which provides for all not the few.’