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Filled to the brim with anger

Dorothy Lepkowska reports on the plight of a school where class sizes are set to rise to 40.

Jill Owen spends every Thursday doing the school accounts and writing begging letters. At the end of last term, her secretary found her in tears after a pile of bills arrived at the school.

St Edward's RC primary school, in Coleshill, Warwickshire, is one of hundreds around the country where the cupboards are bare and class sizes are set to rise up to 40 in the coming months.

As the teachers had their break last Tuesday morning, a local resident arrived with a donation of cardboard and paper. Mrs Owen summoned a chain gang of pupils to bring it in and helped to receive the delivery herself.

"People are so kind. The donor is a governor of one of our neighbouring schools, but he realises we are as badly off as they are," she said.

Warwickshire education chiefs are expected to take over delegated powers at St Edward's within days. Governors at the school have set a needs budget of Pounds 275,000 - Pounds 35,000 more than the local authority allocated.

A Pounds 17,500 sum from the LEA's school support fund will prevent the loss of a teacher's job, but, according to Mrs Owen, it is still not enough to meet the school's needs for the coming year.

St Edward's has 186 pupils, but that number will rise to 203 in September. The only way to ensure adequate teaching is to merge Years 5 and 6 into a single classroom, with one teacher, resulting in a class of 39. The classroom was built to accommodate 25.

Mrs Owen said: "This will be a mixed-age class, with mixed-ability children. They will miss out on individual attention, and what happens if several parents come in in the morning asking to see the teacher to discuss a problem?" Health and safety inspectors have been called in to advise on the legal implications of large sizes. "I have to know where we stand if something happens," Mrs Owen added.

Maintenance of the buildings is already largely paid for by parents. Last year the 150 families with children at St Edward's paid Pounds 50,000 for a new hall, so teachers could hold assemblies and PE lessons, and each family contributes Pounds 5 a term towards a school fund.

"Many of our parents send their children here because on principle they do not wish to send them to a private school. So they end up paying for their youngsters to have facilities in a state school.

"While the school is getting bigger, we are also losing pupils. Parents who already have children here know what they are getting, but new families put their names down then end up going elsewhere when they realise the size of the class their child will be in.

"It is a constant dilemma. Do we cram the children in for the extra money they bring, or do we restrict our classes and face losing staff? We cannot seem to win either way.

"I am fed up grovelling. The additional money from the local authority will enable us to keep a teacher but I do not feel grateful. Why should I when this is the right of the children?" Pat Ward, the deputy head, will be charged with the task of teaching the combined Years 5 and 6 in September. He is working in a similar situation this year, but with 32 pupils.

Mr Ward said: "I have been teaching for 17 years, and I have never known the education service to be in such dire straits. Within that class I have pupils reaching national curriculum levels ranging from 2 to 5, and at level 6 in some subject areas. There are also special needs children who have their own individual programmes.

"I am very worried indeed about how I am going to manage, not just with the teaching load but with monitoring and assessing all those pupils.

"I honestly feel we will not be giving these youngsters the education they deserve, and that is really getting me down.

"Gillian Shephard is constantly claiming there is no research to show large class sizes have an adverse effect, yet the first question parents ask is how many children will there be in a class," said Mr Ward.

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