Eight-year-old at the centre of legal battle over teaching

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The Independent Online
Eight-year-old Penny Houghton has been sent home from school twice in the past two weeks because of a dispute over class sizes at her West Yorkshire primary school.

She is one of at least 30 children missing class one day a week because of a National Union of Teachers work-to-rule at Fearney Lee Infant and Junior school in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Now her parents are taking legal action against Calderdale Council to stop the disruption to her education. Her father, Darren,said his daughter had become a pawn in a political battle between teachers and the education authority. "Penny and her friends are the ones who are suffering. This has been going on for at least 18 months. All this is just for the sake of point five of a teacher.

"Penny is beginning to understand what is going on. She misses school and her friends. We give her work to do when she is at home but she is not very happy."

Industrial action began three weeks ago after talks failed between the NUT and the authority, which has been surrounded by controversy following the breakdown of discipline at The Ridings School in Halifax.

Last week the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, decided to send in a team of government advisers to Calderdale after inspectors found the council was failing to support its schools, teachers and pupils. Mrs Shepherd said the Houghtons' threat of legal action against the authority only confirmed her decision as the right one.

Yesterday Sue McMahon, divisional secretary of Calderdale NUT, said the school was not being targeted for industrial action over what is acknowledged as a nation-wide problem. She added: "Teachers at the school approached us 18 months ago because they were concerned about class sizes. There were 38 children in a reception class which should have 27. They felt they could not go on in this way. The school is not being targeted. Teachers there want a solution and there had been none after18 months."

New proposals regarding the organisation of the school are being discussed today, in an attempt to resolve the issue.