Just two months after unveiling a controversial and flawed ‘Primary School Review’, our Labour administration seems intent on implementing the plan without even bothering to respond to the criticisms levelled against it.
This week has seen announcements of a large new primary school for the Dove Lane area of St Pauls – discussed in more detail by Bristol KRS – and of a decision to not build a long-proposed small and much needed primary school on the site of Brunel College at Ashley Down in favour of enlarging Sefton Park Primary School in Montpelier instead.
Both decisions conform exactly to the proposals of last October’s ‘Primary Review’ document for a huge and costly primary school rebuilding programme based around large schools of up to 630 pupils – about double the average size of a primary school in a UK city. This review was hurriedly agreed by the Labour cabinet despite trenchant criticism from the NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers).
Among the NAHT criticisms were the following:
- The document did not state as a matter of principle that all children will have access to a local school and that any changes to school organisation will take into account the views of the local community.
- An assertion is made that larger school units are desirable. NAHT does not challenge the fact that economies of scale are achieved in larger schools but knows of no research evidence that shows the size of a school determines the levels of attainment although the quality of leadership demonstrably does.
- In considering school size the argument is principally around efficiency of
resource usage. Raising attainment may or may not be a consequential impact of this.
- Does the Local Education authority know of research that shows school size in the primary sector impacts upon attainment?
- NAHT is of the view that any individual proposal for a school (or pair) must be able to deliver an improvement in the quality of provision for pupils and the community.
- The implication of this view is that fewer but higher quality changes are developed as resources allow. Not as may happen, namely a larger number of cobbled together schemes that make no difference and have little consequential impact.
- Related to this view is that fact that any proposals must also be related to the capacity of the Local Education Authority to fully and coherently manage the transitions for schools. A smaller high quality capital programme would be something the Local Education Authority would be better placed to manage. At present the lack of integrated transition support for developments in children’s centres do not bode well in this regard.
- At present we are extremely unclear as to what supporting evidence there is that 630 place primary schools are a good idea.
- No primary school governors have been consulted on this review
- We are concerned that the Primary Review document has not been sent to governors and was not referred to at all at the recent briefing for Chairs and Headteachers. This is clearly a matter that will have major implications for governing bodies, is causing a great deal of anxiety for Headteachers, and should therefore have been shared with them at the earliest opportunity.
The announcements this week from Labour education boss, Derek Pickup seem to demonstrate that these sensible criticisms and queries from experienced professionals have simply been swept under the carpet by politicians who’ve decided they know best.
Most worrying is the central criticism: that there’s no evidence that these brand new larger schools will improve attainment. But then that’s not our Labour politicians’ main concern is it? Because what these large building projects will improve is profits to the PFI developers procured to do the building work and run the buildings for the next 25 years.