Primary school classes 'could be taught in sheds'

Rising birth rates and immigration sees a growing shortage of classroom places
  • @NigelpMorris

Thousands more young children will have to be taught in temporary buildings, converted sheds and even former shops because of an increasing shortage of primary school places, the Government was warned last night.

Others will be crammed into classes above the legal limit of 30 or sent to lessons miles from their homes as schools struggle to cope with a surge in four- and five-year-olds.

The number of primary age children in England is forecast to increase by more than 450,000 by 2015 as a result of rising birth-rates and immigration – and will carry on growing for the rest of the decade.

The pressure is most acute in London and the south-east, but the effect is also being felt across the country, with Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Norwich, Cheshire, Dorset and Somerset among education authorities reporting problems in dealing with the baby boom.

The east London borough of Barking and Dagenham, which faces the steepest rise in numbers in the country, is considering leasing space in former stores owned by MFI and Woolworths.

Sutton in south London is seeking permission to raise the class size limit for infants to 32, with other authorities expected to follow suit.

A school in Bristol has proposed converting two sheds into classrooms, while children from Portishead, Somerset, are being sent by taxi to a school in a neighbouring town.

Bristol, which has experienced a 20 per cent increase in the number of four-year-olds in the last four years, says it needs a minimum of 3,000 extra places by 2015. Such is the pressure in Norwich that the city council says it will have to open three new primary schools to cope.

Stephen Twigg, the shadow Education Secretary, warned last night of a dramatic impact on the quality of pupils' education if the problem was not urgently addressed by the Government.

He said in an interview with The Independent: "Many will be squeezed into temporary classrooms in Portakabins. If you are looking to use a temporary classroom, you are less likely to have the most modern equipment for learning. Having good-quality facilities... makes a big difference to a child's life chances. In the short term, greater use of Portakabins is going to happen, but there need to be systems in place to ensure they are used for as short a time as possible."

Mr Twigg also suggested the highest-qualified teachers were less likely to apply for a job in schools where large numbers of children are taught in temporary accommodation.

In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced he was setting aside an extra £600m to fund 40,000 more places in areas facing the greatest demographic pressure.