More pupils face school bus journeys

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The Independent Online
MORE five-year-olds will have to be bused to school because of the Government's class-size policy, according to a new survey of local authorities.

Officials say the number of five-year-olds forced to travel longer distances because their local schools are full will rise as ministers enforce the restriction of 30 on infant-class sizes.

A promise to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds was one of Labour's election pledges. Ministers have told local authorities that no one must be denied a place at a popular school as class sizes are reduced.

They are spending pounds 60m this year and a further pounds 560m over the next three years to allow popular schools to expand with extra buildings and more teachers.

But local authorities say the reality is more complicated. One London authority, Haringey, has told parents that their chances of obtaining a place at a popular school on appeal are likely to be reduced because of the class-size policy.

The survey of 32 English local authorities carried out by the National Union of Teachers challenges the Government's view that parental choice will not be affected by the class-size reductions.

More infant pupils will also be taught in mixed-age classes - a practice that is unpopular with parents and controversial among teachers. Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education said that mixed-age classes were more difficult to teach and might jeopardise the national literacy strategy.

The survey says building work to cope with bigger class sizes in the first authorities to receive government money has already begun.

More teachers are also being employed but the survey suggests that, in at least one authority, many of these are not new teachers but those facing redundancy.

Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary, said smaller classes would bring benefits to children's education. But he added: "Knowing the problems allows both local authorities and Government an opportunity to overcome them or limit their impact. One area for further work is examining the effect of the policy on the number of pupils in mixed-age classes."

About a quarter of children are already in mixed-aged classes, and Graham Lane, chairman of the Local Government Association's education committee, said: "There is no evidence that mixed-age teaching is harmful. Ofsted should end its opposition to it. By 2001 there will probably be very few infant classes of more than 30. It will be a major achievement. It is true that it does reduce to some extent parental preference." Ministers say 140,000 children started school this term in smaller classes and 1,600 teachers have been employed.

David Willetts, Tory education spokesman, said: "We have asked the Government several times for an assurance that this policy will be delivered without reducing parental choice and without an increase in mixed-age classes. They have never given that guarantee and we know why ... The Government is imposing this policy without taking account of local circumstances."

tThe Arts in schools and teacher training courses are being pushed out of the timetable by the Government's insistence that teachers concentrate on literacy and numeracy, says the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Primary schools are abandoning singing, only a small minority of 15-year- olds study music and teacher training institutions relegate the arts to brief taster courses, it says.

In a report, The Disappearing Arts?, the society says that one primary school in five plans to cut back music and the same number have already reduced singing. After 14, only 8 per cent of pupils take music, 19 per cent drama and 36 per cent art.

A survey of 33 teacher training institutions reveals that many are abandoning arts specialisms.

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