Children lose out after schools fail to keep up with demand

Primary schools have had to sacrifice music rooms, libraries and even outdoor play space to cram in extra classrooms to cope with a massive shortage of places, MPs are warning. This is from the Independent…

Even poorly-performing schools face having to expand to take in extra pupils, the influential Commons public accounts committee reveals in a hard-hitting report.

It accuses the Department for Education of failing to identify the rising demand for school places in time.   As a result, a total of 256,000 more will now be needed by September 2014.

The report also adds the number of children in infant classes of more than 30 pupils has more than doubled in the past five years – and a 20 per cent of primary schools were full or over capacity last May.

It concludes with the warning: “The department does not sufficiently understand the risks to children’s learning and development that may arise as authorities strain the sinews of the school estate to deliver enough places.”

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, added: “It does not take much imagination to realise that educational opportunities and standards might be diminished in specialist areas, such as music rooms and libraries, are converted into classrooms or playgrounds used to house children in overcrowded demountables.”

Bob Garton, head of Gascoigne primary school in Barking and Dagenham  -one of schools that has had to sacrifice space to take in extra pupils, said:  “We used to have a field where children could play but we have had to put five demountable classrooms on it.”

The school, which has also had to sacrifice its music room and dismantle its library, has expanded from 800 to 1,200 pupils in the past five years.

“I understand the crisis that the local authority has faced,” said Mr Garton. “Obviously it has a statutory obligation to find a place for every child and I was only helping out – as indeed any other school would do if it had heard the individual stories of parents trying to get their children into school.  They are heart-rending.”

The school is in the middle of a high rise estate and therefore does not have the option of expanding outside of its premises.  In all, it has had to create eight extra classrooms – and a further two are now necessary.

Today’s report says: “Neither the Department nor local authorities anticipated how much and where pupil numbers were rising early enough and therefore failed to adequately plan for the increased demand

“We are concerned that the scale of financial contributions expected from some local authorities for new school places introduces wider risks to the ongoing maintenance of the school estate.”

It adds: “Some authorities may have no choice but to expand poorly performing schools if places are required in that area.”

It says solutions like this “may have a negative impact on school standards” – citing the fact that 76 per cent of councils have converted non-classroom space into classrooms and 64 per cent have reduced playground space.

More at:  Children lose out after schools fail to keep up with demand

How has the growing demand for places affected your school? What has been sacrificed in order to create necessary new places and what impact is that having on children and staff? Please share in the comments below, on Twitter or by using this form 

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