Government research reveals discontent with staffing ratios in reception. Helen Ward reports
Parents have serious concerns about the size of their children's reception classes, government-funded research shows.
Four out of 10 believe class sizes for four and five-year-olds could be reduced. One in 10 parents also thought improvements were needed to school security and to the building. One in five parents with full-time reception children, and one in four with part-time children, believe classes are too big.
There is no specific staffing ratio for reception classes, but by law they must have 30 children or fewer. The National Centre for Social Research, which conducted the study for the Department for Education and Skills, believes that parents' perception of large classes may be due to the change from nurseries, where staffing ratios are tighter.
Official figures show that around 346,000 four-year-olds are in a reception class in England, compared to 102,000 in nursery schools.
A further 105,000 four-year-olds are in private or voluntary nurseries. The statistics from January 2005 show the average class size for reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes is 25.6 pupils. The Children Act 1989 recommends state-school nursery classes for three and four-year-olds must have at least one qualified teacher and one qualified nursery assistant to 26 children, or two staff to 20 children if the head has teaching duties.
But private and voluntary-sector day nurseries, which tend not to employ teachers, must have one adult to eight children.
Next month, however, the Government is due to consult on a standard staff ratio for all children of the same age - and it could mean larger groups in private day nurseries.
Ministers have proposed that all places which take in three and four-year-olds should have one adult to 13 children, for a limited period each day, when a graduate and other adult are present.
Margaret Morrissey, from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said parents sent their children to reception classes, despite their concerns, because they are free and educational. She said parents also often wanted to ensure a place in a particular school. But she said: "There are some very tiny children in school who have only just had their fourth birthday. Inevitably, once in school, they are treated like schoolchildren.
"Four-year-olds need support, help and attention and although schools have teaching assistants now, many schools cannot afford too many of them."
Sandhills primary, in Oxford, has 42 children in its foundation stage unit in the afternoons, when the 27 full-time reception children are joined by 15 part-time nursery children. The children, all aged four or five, are overseen by a teacher and two teaching assistants. Joe Johnson, head, said:
"Parents feel their children are going from nurseries, where there is a ratio of one adult to 13 children, or one to eight children, into a class of 30. But I think children here cope very well. It is well planned and children are seldom doing the same thing all together - they are doing different activities in different parts of the unit."
Childcare and Early Years Provision: A Study of Parents' Use, Views and Experiences www.dfes.gov.ukresearch