Thousands of primary school pupils face a three-day week to cope with places crisis

Thousands of primary school pupils face a three-day week to cope with places crisis
Thousands of primary school pupils face a three-day week to cope with places crisis

Thousands of pupils could be forced on to three-day weeks because of a chronic shortage of school places.Working parents face the ‘logistical nightmare’ of having to arrange childcare on week days when their youngsters would normally be in lessons.

The radical measure may be introduced by a London council in 2015 at dozens of primary schools as a huge influx of youngsters threatens to fill classes to bursting.Other local authorities are already using emergency measures such as building over playgrounds,  constructing temporary classrooms, introducing extra reception classes and creating ‘titan’ schools of more than 1,000 pupils.

The Mail reported yesterday how the crisis follows a baby boom, rising immigration and families being forced out of the private sector.In some parts of England there could be nearly twice as many pupils as available primary places in two years, according to research by the Local Government Association.Up to two-thirds of councils may have to deal with more youngsters starting primary school than their school can fit in by September 2016.

Among the hardest hit is Barking and Dagenham in East London, which has six of the ten largest primary schools in the country.It has already expanded 70 per cent of its 47 infant, junior and primary schools, converted former offices into classrooms, used temporary accommodation and introduced ‘bulge’ classes – extra one-off reception classes that continue through the school until more space is found or pupils go to secondary school.

This term, 1,100 more children will start in reception than left in Year 6 for secondary school. At least 700 reception places need to be created.Education chiefs are considering a three-day week in which half a school’s pupils would go to lessons from  Monday to Wednesday and the other half from Thursday to Saturday.This could see the borough’s 21,430 primary-age pupils in classes for three days from 8am to 6pm instead of 8.30am to 3.30pm for five days, with working parents having to find childcare on the remaining days.

An alternative is a shift system in which one half of a school works from 8am until 2pm and the other half from 2pm until 8pmBarking and Dagenham says it needs £50million a year for ten years to create extra places. But the Department for Education is giving it £28million for the next two years.Rocky Gill, the council’s deputy leader, yesterday warned that three-day weeks or split shift days could be introduced within two years without sufficient Government cash.He said: ‘Logistically, there are impacts on working parents. But I have queues of people at my surgeries that can’t get a school place.’

Other councils are likely to monitor the council’s plans after Education Secretary Michael Gove gave head teachers more flexibility to alter the school day and set term dates.LGA figures released yesterday forecast that Costessey in Norfolk, Purfleet in Essex and central Croydon, South London, will have at least 75 per cent more pupils by 2015 than the number of places currently available.The Government this week said 93 free schools would open across the country, creating an extra 43,000 spaces for primary and secondary school children.

Mr Gove said yesterday: ‘We have more than doubled funding for new school places and we are setting up great new free schools, which are giving parents a choice of high quality school places.’But Margaret Morrissey, founder of the pressure group Parents Outloud, said: ‘It’s not acceptable to have three-day weeks for children.’÷ Parents and pupils could be asked to rate their teachers to help set performance-related pay in all state schools.Heads must link staff pay to performance from this term.The Government has abolished pay rises based on length of service to let heads and governors reward their best staff, and take deny rises to poor teachers.Mr Gove said it was ‘madness’ that a bad teacher could be paid more than a good one.Teaching unions are threatening to strike over the issue.