Changing face in the classroom

15th September 2000 at 01:00
Researchers Janet Dobson and Kirsty Henthorne say that there are ways schools can cope with high pupil turnover.

LAST year, 100 children joined Global infants school (not its real name), in addition to the normal intake in the reception class. In the same period 110 children left in addition to those who transferred to junior school at the end of Year 2. Twenty-four of the joiners were also counted among the leavers because they stayed for only a short time. The school's inspection report described it as a "self-contained community".

Did the inspectors miss something? Yes and no. They noted the high number of transient and refugee families living in local hotels and that many children had experienced educational disruption before entering the school. They also noted excellent leadership and management, quality of teaching, contribution of support staff, teamwork, good resourcing and the fact that: "All members of staff, both teaching and non-teaching, are highly motivated and strongly committed to the school's aims and ethos".

The latter qualities help to obscure the fact that the school is, very quietly, coping with a huge pupil-turnover.

Global infants is one of six case-study schools which participated in our "Pupil mobility in schools" project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The final report has just been published and our research, on both schools and education authorities, contradicts some common myths - such as that high-pupil mobility is mainly a problem for secondary schools, and the belief that high-mobility schools are all "bad" and, if only they became "good", their pupil population would stabilise.

High-mobility primaries - that is, schools with large numbers of children joining and leaving at non-standard times - exist nationwide. They are only a minority of schools but in London and some other urban areas, they are a sizeable minority. Their mobility is mainly related to the housing and other circumstances of the families whose children they educate. They include schools with children from service families. They work under enormous pressure and their difficulties and achievements deserve greater recognition.

Seaside primary school in the north of England was another of our case study schools. The illustration (right) shows what happened to one year group as it moved through that school. Seventy-six children started at the normal age in the reception class in September 1993. The diagram shows that, each successive year, fewer and fewer of the original starters moved up into the next class until, by the normal leaving age, only 38 of them were left. Over the seven-year period, a further 122 children joined the year group, of whom 53 were still there by the end of Year 6.

The impact on the academic life of the school can be seen by looking at mobility in Years 5 and 6. During Year 5, there were 26 joiners and 22 leavers. During Year 6, there were 12 joiners and eight leavers. Target-setting for aggregate school performance in key stage 2 tests two years in advance can be no more than informed guesswork in this school. And when results appear, it cannot be said that they reflect the effort that the school has put into teaching and supporting pupils over the seven years.

We have studied the steps staff must take to settle in the newcomers and enable them to start making progress as quickly as possible. The box (below) summarises some of the tasks involved. It must be emphasised that there are few economies of scale - if a school has 100 non-standard joiners in a year, many of these actions must be repeated 100 times, even if the child leaves again two weeks later.

Leaving also has its rituals and requirements. Preparing and sending on records, finalising dinner money and trying to ensure the return of books and equipment are some of the things that have to be done. If children disappear without warning, efforts must be ade to trace them and ensure their safety.

This is likely to involve the LEA's education welfare service. Mobility also makes demands on local authority services dealing with attendance, admissions, special educational needs, English as an additional language and traveller education.

While it is untrue to say that all high mobility schools are poor schools, they are all at risk of becoming so and some are in serious difficulties. While every school benefits from good leadership and stable staffing, these factors are crucial in a school with a transient population. Moreover, without enough staff - teaching and non-teaching - a high mobility school simply cannot do all it needs to do, both for its mobile pupils and for the stable core of the school population - which may be quite large.

In many high-mobility schools, pupils have extensive and diverse learning needs which would be difficult to meet, even without the additional demands of mobility. The pressure on heads and teachers is immense. Even the fittest and most experienced can become exhausted by it. High teacher turnover can result.

Our study identifies what these findings mean for national policy, LEAs and schools. In very broad terms, proposals for action can be divided into those designed to help schools raise achievement and those designed to reduce mobility levels.

The aim of national policy is that every school should become a good school, with the capacity to help every child fulfil their potential. This seems unlikely to happen if we continue to expect certain schools to educate some of the most deprived children in society, while managing very high levels of pupil mobility.

Copies of the "Final report on pupil mobility" by Janet Dobson, Kirsty Henthorne and Zoe Lynas are available from the migration research unit, department of geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAP. Price pound;3 (including postage).




Phone discussion with education authority, parent andor others about possible admission. Meeting parents. Discussion with teacher about needs of new child, implications for class and for additional support, if relevant. Monitoring roll and resourcing implications. Reviewing class organisation. Contacting previous school, education authority andor other agencies where particular difficulties are identified.

Senior secretary


Taking down details of new child and transferring details to computer file. Giving parents and child information about school. Making arrangements for school dinners. Notifying class teacher of new entrant.Phoning previous school for records. Notifying education authority of new child on roll.

Classroom teacher

Preparing for child's arrival (labels, books, tray etc).

Talking to parents and child. Settling child into class ("buddy" introductions etc). Organising assessment teststasks. Studying records from previous school. Starting file for records of work, progress and achievement.

Placing child in appropriate groups. Changing class groupings if necessary.

Classroom assistant

Supervising assessment teststasks as required. Giving new child some individual attention.

SEN co-ordinator

Giving advice and help where needs identified. Organising learning support within available resources. Contacting education authority for further supportaction as appropriate.

EAL co-ordinator

Arranging interpretation. Finding out about previous educational experience. Assessment of abilities and achievement levels. Arranging support from within available resources. Seeking further EAL support from education a as appropriate. Acquisition of learning materials relevant to languageculture.

Other staff

Keeping an eye on the child, especially at play and lunch times.

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