Warning of classroom friction as teachers struggle for space

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WARNINGS over super-sized primary schools have been sounded as head teachers and academics call for a Government rethink.

Yorkshire has seen the number of children in 30-plus classrooms more than double in the last four years, a move which teachers say will only get worse.

Across the region primary school heads face a space shortage, according to the latest Government figures.

Kirklees was among the most under pressure district in the country. Over four years the council has seen the number of pupils in large class rooms jump from 31 to 842.

In North Yorkshire there was 241% increase, and in Leeds a 313% increase.

One head teacher has now called for councils to once again be given the power to open new schools where needed.

Stephen Watkins, head teacher at Mill Field Primary School in Leeds, said he refused to take pupils if it would push classroom sizes above 30.

Mr Watkins said he felt the issue must be addressed at a national level, calling for a change to rules which mean local authorities such as Leeds are responsible for admissions policy but lost the power to build new schools.

He said: “We are getting bigger and bigger primary schools now, there are some with 600 pupils in them, and as a head teacher of 30 years I think that is too big.

“I remember when I had a school with 210 pupils, I knew every child’s name and their parents.

“Here we have 350 and you can just about cope with that, it’s about the most you can do to know all the families.

“If you have 600 pupil-schools you just can’t know them all. That would be about 90 children in a reception class, the equivalent of three schools worth.

“There’s no way you can have the relationship you need there.

“Young children need a more secure, homely environment to help them cope.

“There will be some who disagree, the larger schools get more money, but personally I think the last thing we want is to go back to the days of 39 or more pupils.

“Class rooms are a built with 30 children in mind, if you put more in it causes friction.”

Also raising concerns was the respected Education Foundation think tank.

The organisation has called for cross party talks on how growing birth rates will force a change in how the Government plans for school sizes.

Co-founder Ty Goddard said the problem was “nationwide.”

He added: “What worries me is that valuable school spaces such as libraries are having to be used as teaching spaces, as class rooms.

“If you talk to professional educators they will tell you that there is a real pressure on some schools.”

The Education Foundation has called for cross party talks on how growing birth rates will force a change in how the Government plans for school sizes.

Mr Goddard’s think tank recently held a cross-party emergency summit on the issues facing education, with class sizes a growing concern.

He said: “The rising birth rate accounts for a lot of this, and it is a real challenge, that all parties need to start taking seriously, you just have to look at the figures to see that. There is no denying that the system is struggling to cope here.

“And this will filter through the whole school system, we are at the point already where we have to be more imaginative in how we refurbish schools, how we use school spaces.

“This cannot just be about point scoring, we need cross party consensus on these major issues.”