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Massive majority of heads worried about pupil places crisis, survey finds

Almost nine out of 10 school leaders are concerned that primary schools are unable to cope with the dramatically increasing numbers of pupils.

In addition, two-thirds said that they had no room to take in extra pupils. Instead, they want to see the Government open more maintained schools in areas where there are too few places available.

More than 850 headteachers, deputies and heads of year or department were surveyed by The Key, a support group for school leaders. These were drawn from primary and secondary schools around the country. The findings are published just as parents around the country are submitting their applications for school places.

The survey found that 87 per cent of school leaders were worried about the shortage of available places at primary schools. One in four was “very concerned” about this problem.

“We have a moral duty to ensure children are educated and in school,” said one respondent, the head of a primary school in Bradford. “I am deeply concerned that the lack of places is impacting on our most vulnerable children.”

Some of those questioned said that the problem was compounded by the establishment of free schools in areas where there are already surplus places. Instead, 52 per cent thought that the most practical solution was to open more local-authority maintained schools.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, agreed. “Disregarding the principle of whether we should have free schools or not, it would be far better to spend our money  on a 300-pupil school than on a 50-pupil school where it’s not needed,” he said. “We’re not spending our funds as efficiently as we might.”

Almost one in four respondents to the survey, meanwhile, thought that expanding the intake of existing schools would be the most practical way to tackle the problem.

Indeed, in 2012 TES reported that headteachers were struggling to accommodate the growing numbers of pupils on their rolls, and that many were resorting to larger class sizes or multiple-class year groups.

However, two-thirds of those surveyed by The Key said that their current facilities were simply not able to support such measures.

“Our school is currently full, with at least 30 children in every class,” said another Bradford primary head. “Larger class sizes impact on pupil performance.”

Mr Hobby pointed out that most headteachers would be happy to take in more pupils, provided the necessary support and investment was guaranteed. “Enlarging a school requires a lot of building work and a lot of project management,” he said. “Doing that in a rush gets in the way of everything else we have to do.

“You need to be able to plan ahead. We should be able to do that, because there’s a general relationship between the number of children being born and those going to school, with a four-year gap in between.”

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