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Posted on

06/01/12

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Will we see class sizes of 30+ in academies and free schools in the future?

Many academies and free schools are currently selling themselves on having “small class sizes”, but, looking into my crystal ball, I wonder whether we will be seeing big class sizes in many of these schools in the future. This thought arises having spoken on the Vanessa Feltz Show on BBC London this morning about Sutton Council who are asking the government if they can increase their class sizes to 32 from 30 because there’s a rising birth rate in the borough and not enough school places. The DfE responded to an inquiry from the Feltz show by saying that free schools and expanding popular schools will be the answer to this explosion in the school population. They indicated that 30+ class sizes was not acceptable and, in fact, illegal. This is certainly true for maintained schools.

But I’ve checked with an academy and they told me that their funding agreement means that they can have whatever class sizes they want as long as they meet health and safety requirements. One SLT member told me that he could quite easily envision the situation in a few years time whereby you might have very large classes (ie 40+) in academies, provided there was the right accommodation. What you could do, he said, was have one main teacher, properly paid, and then have teaching assistants on a minimum wages helping to keep order. “You’ll hire in a few heavies on a cheap wage to keep the kids in line and then get a good teacher to take the class. That way you’ll save a lot of money on wages, and you could also say that the teacher-pupil ratio was good to the punters when, in effect, it really isn’t,” he chortled somewhat ironically: it isn’t anything he wants happening in his school, but he knows of schools where it might. This is, no doubt, what will happen, and may well be already but we simply don’t know about it because academies and free schools are not accountable or transparent in the way LA schools are.

No wonder Sir Michael Wilshaw is calling for Local Commissioners to keep an eye on these schools!

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. If Gove gets his way, I suspect we’ll see lots of things like this – academies don’t have to provide teaching for a certain number of days, for example. Once the dominos have starting really tipping and there’s no way back, it will be free market chaos with our children the victims.

  2. Yes, and I find it fascinating that Wilshaw has drawn back from the full implications of a fully-fledged free market with his suggestion that there should be local commissioners to keep an eye on things.

    • If I had my way I’d write the policy which would ensure the major companies rapidly created fully integrated formative and summative systems of tracking students’ progress which facilitated the tracking of personal learning targets as well as both core skills and techniques and optional skills and techniques. This would be far more effective for students and teachers than SATS.

      I’d get the government to commission an extension to the learning records service software which would all them and Ofsted to remotely analyse in far more sophisticated detail what’s actually going on in schools (rather than having to rely on very few very bald high stakes figures).

      But that’s because I actually understand what is needed to improve appropriate professional freedom in education.

      Sigh. Nutha glass of vino needed Rebecca. Or bed maybe.

      • Leonard James says:

        This sounds like a combination between APP which was despised and a national IT system which governments are famously awful at implementing. Here is novel idea, why not trust teachers to get on with their jobs.

        • or give them an infrastructure which helps them to get on with their job.

          Some schools (especially primaries) seem to like APP. It’s main limitation has been that it hasn’t made a clear distinction between those skill which can be easily tested and those which cannot be tested and allowed teachers to treat them differently.

  3. But aren’t these commissioners only supposed to keep an eye on ‘standards’ ie give the stats a flick through and check they’re okay?

    No mention of any other regulation that I could see.

  4. You should have a word with Peter Hyman at School 21 because he wants to have lectures with 50+ at times:

    http://www.school21.org/836/

    This is part of a scheme where at other times the class sizes are smaller.

    Or have a look at this state school, Bure Valley Junior School, which manages a ratio of 35 children:1 teacher.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1354424/School-teaches-pupils-classes-SEVENTY–says-pupils-learning-more.html

    http://www.burevalleyschool.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Newsletter-4th-February-2011.pdf

    There seem to be teaching techniques which can work with large classes. It shouldn’t matter what type of school it is, unless we really have degenerated culturally in to social incompetence in some parts of our society, as writers such as Birbalsingh have claimed.

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