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Education: Primary places don’t add up

14 June 2012

by Margaret Holness

Restored: pupils at work and play in the previously disused church hall and vicarage in Edmonton, now part of St Matthew’s C of E Primary School, Ponders End PHOTOS GEOFF CRAWFORD

Restored: pupils at work and play in the previously disused church hall and vicarage in Edmonton, now part of St Matthew’s C of E Primary School, Po...

HUNDREDS of Church of England schools are involved in emergency measures, caused by a sharp in­crease in the need for primary-school places. An unplanned-for rise in the birth rate, together with sudden population movements, has left local authorities in some areas struggling to place children in schools.

A Department for Education national pupil projection, published in December, suggested that over-all numbers began increasing last year, and that the rise will continue for the foreseeable future. By 2020, num­bers are projected to be 20 per cent higher than in 2011, reaching levels last seen in the early 1970s.

In some areas, the shortage of primary places has already reached crisis level. The significant An­glican presence in the primary sector — one in five of all primaries is a C of E school — means that numer­ous church schools are being asked to expand rapidly. Many are 19th-century voluntary aided schools, established in poor inner- urban areas, which continue to serve dis­advantaged communities.

Diocesan directors of education, working closely with local-authority colleagues to cope with the crisis, report that their schools are having to make room for “bulge” classes, and create annexes on other sites to make room for more children. Some Victorian school buildings, which had been replaced, have been reopened to provide extra class­rooms.

This has happened in Camden, north London, where the tiny 19th-century Emmanuel Primary, which for generations had an annual in­take of only 15 pupils, doubled its intake last year, and, in September, will take a further “bulge” class in its new building next door.

The chairman of governors, the Revd Jonathan Kester, said: “We felt it right to do what we could to help out locally by offering space to Camden council.” Places would be allocated solely to children who live near the school, he said.

MOST of London diocese’s 135 primaries are under some level of pressure, the director of schools support services, Liz Wolverson, said. The problem was most press­ing in the outer-London boroughs, where rents are lower than in the centre. In some of the worst affec-ted areas, houses were in multi-occupation, and some families were living in hurrriedly set-up shacks in householders’ back gardens.

The borough of Enfield, north London, is one of the hardest-hit areas of the country. A council statement said: “The principal driver of the increased number of primary-age children is the local population structure and the rela­tively high birth-rate.”

The numbers were augmented by migration trends, the statement said, as more people were moving into the borough than moving out. Other authorities suggest that young people who arrived as single, mobile migrants are now settling down and having families. Some authorities fear that changes to the benefits system will exacerbate the problem.

One of Enfield’s C of E schools, St Matthew’s, Ponders End, has developed an annexe, five miles away in Edmonton, which is housed in a church hall and disused vicar­age. The head teacher, Stephan Roos, his deputy, Annette Rieck, and senior teachers divide their time between the two sites.

Because many of the children are not fluent in English, or have other disadvantages, there are always three adults in the classroom, Mr Roos said. Moreover, he wants his new pupils to share in the educational extras for which St Matthew’s is noted: all children are offered the chance to play a musical instru­ment, for example. “It’s important to maintain the standards we want for all our children,” he said.

ABOUT 200 miles north, at least 30 C of E schools in Leeds and Brad­ford are also affected, to some ex­tent, by the primary-places crisis. With the backing of the local auth­ority, a former secondary school, Bradford Academy, has responded by adding primary classes and ex­panding as an all-age school.

All Saints’ Primary, Horton, which three years ago was a two-form entry school, has brought its original Victorian building into use, and now takes in three first-year classes. Another C of E primary, Trinity All Saints, has agreed to double its intake in the autumn.

The Revd Clive Sedgwick, who is head of the joint education team for the Bradford and Ripon & Leeds dio­ceses, says that the challenge is to maintain educational standards while responding to the crisis.

In Birmingham, only a handful of church schools have found it neces­sary to add classes, the diocesan director of education, the Revd Jackie Hughes, said. The increase in pupils is largely being handled by collaboration between schools and neighbouring authorities. Schools with spare places are accepting children who may live in another authority’s area.

The diocese was working with local-authority officers on longer-term strategies, Mrs Hughes said. “In a few years, the increase will have moved to the secondary sector, and we are discussing the possibility of using church-owned land for the extra schools that will be needed then.”

The matter is regarded as urgent by national C of E educationists, a Church House spokesperson said. “The Church of England and its statutory faith partners are working urgently to secure commitment to the necessary capital investment by the Department for Education, highlighting these basic needs, and playing its part in seeing they are speedily addressed.”

The DfE has promised extra support to enable local authorities to meet the shortage, a spokesman said. “Nationally, we will invest £4 billion over the next four years.”

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