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Creative use of unfilled space

A Derby infants school has found an upside to falling pupil numbers: it leaves more room for children to make a mess.

The school has turned the spare space left to its advantage - transforming one classroom into a "creative room" where pupils can regularly do messy arts and crafts that would not be practical in normal classrooms.

Changes to the population in its catchment area has left Nightingale infants with around 30 per cent of its places unfilled. It also has three more classrooms than it strictly needs.

One of these has become the creative room, the second "the resources room", where teachers do their lesson planning and marking, while the third has been fitted with computers and an interactive whiteboard.

Janet Toombs, headteacher, said: "The extra space is a silver lining. But if I was given the choice I would rather have more pupils and the income they generate."

The fall in rolls forced the school, which is in the most deprived ward in Derby, to cut two teachers, two dinner supervisors and three teaching assistant posts last year.

The school, which takes pupils aged three to seven, has also suffered regular threats of merger with nearby Nightingale junior school, which had 41 per cent surplus places, or places unfilled, last year.

Mrs Toombs said she did not believe that birth-rates had changed drastically for parents living near the school, who are predominantly white and often unemployed. Instead she felt that pupil numbers had dropped because of changes in housing in the school's catchment area.

When Mrs Toombs became head in 1993 the school had 250 pupils plus 54 in its nursery.

But a new housing development outside Derby attracted away many of its families in 1997, cutting its roll to 230. Then in 2003, the council bulldozed one-and-a-half residential streets nearby after finding asbestos in the buildings, taking the roll down to 180 today.

However, Mrs Toombs is confident her pupil numbers could bounce back as swiftly as they have fallen, also because of housing changes.

"There are 18 new houses being built near the school and I've heard through the grapevine that Rolls Royce is moving its factories and that part of the land is going to become 500 houses," she said.

"The estimate is that you need 50 to 80 school places for every 200 houses.

So the school could become bigger than it was when I started - and then I'll miss the extra space."

Derby council is carrying out a review of its primary schools over the next two years to respond to a predicted fall of around 3 per cent in the number of places needed 2010.

Total primary pupil numbers in the authority are expected to drop from 20,500 to 19,700 over the next two years and to fall further after that.

The city council has indicated that it will be forced to close a few of its primary schools and merge some of its junior and infant schools.

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