Class-size pledge signals the end of LMS;Dalton's diary;Governors

17th April 1998 at 01:00
"Infant classes of 31 or more will automatically trigger an additional teacher to be provided by the local education authority, using Government money set aside for reducing class sizes." I read it in The TES, so it must be true.

At the moment, my school is managing to keep both its key stage 1 classes under 30 pupils, but only by moving a dozen of the older Year 2 children in with a Year 3 class. In order to take advantage of this special offer, we can easily arrange to move them back, easing the situation further up the school where some classes are creeping up towards 40. This would put both primary classes over 30 and qualify us for two extra teachers. Brilliant!

I will be on the phone on Monday morning to put our order in. I wonder if we are allowed to go and pick our own,like at the Cats' Refuge, or if we just get the next two off the production line? If our needs are replicated across the county, this scheme will require some 500 extra teachers at a cost of some pound;10,000,000 per year in this authority alone, so there should be plenty of choice.

Finding space for them in school may be a bit of a problem - I don't suppose they come ready-wrapped in their own purpose-built mobile classrooms. Choosing which surplus child they each have charge of may be tricky too, although I can think of some obvious candidates.

All this is clearly misleading nonsense. It would be laughable if it wasn't dangerous, signalling as it surely does the end of Local Management of Schools as we know it.

If LEAs are to be charged with delivering David Blunkett's promise of primary class sizes under 30, they can only do so by denying schools the right to manage their own budgets and staffing. I am sure any LEA officer going through our books could release enough money to fund an extra teacher from within our existing budget; but at what cost?

Expenditure on resources has already been cut to the bone: support staff are the only viable target. The classroom ancillaries could go, for a start. Singled out for special praise by our OFSTED inspectors - crucial if we are to fulfil our action plan objectives of providing for both our special needs children and the more able within the classroom - they are clearly a luxury we can't afford. Mr Blunkett has made it quite clear that they do not count towards our pupil:teacher ratio targets, so our belief that they are an asset to the school and excellent value for money must be mistaken.

Our level of lunchtime supervision is far in excess of statutory requirements, too. We have improved quantity and quality of staff so that lunchtimes are safe, happy and productive, but we could easily return to the traditional practice of having one stationary minder per playground, programmed to react only to the sight of blood.

Caretaking costs are a little on the high side; our grounds are used as a meeting place for local yobs and only constant vigilance keeps vandalism and litter at bay. But a slight increase in the amount of broken glass and vomit in the play areas is a small price to pay for increased financial efficiency.

Clerical hours could be reduced if we chained our headteacher to her desk where she belongs, instead of allowing her to waste her expensive executive time interacting with staff, parents and children.

On second thoughts, perhaps we had better just leave those Year 2 pupils where they are and not draw attention to ourselves.

Joan Dalton

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