Will we see class sizes of 30+ in academies and free schools in the future?

Many academies and free schools are currently selling themselves on having “small class sizes”, but, looking into my crystal ball, I wonder whether we will be seeing big class sizes in many of these schools in the future. This thought arises having spoken on the Vanessa Feltz Show on BBC London this morning about Sutton Council who are asking the government if they can increase their class sizes to 32 from 30 because there’s a rising birth rate in the borough and not enough school places. The DfE responded to an inquiry from the Feltz show by saying that free schools and expanding popular schools will be the answer to this explosion in the school population. They indicated that 30+ class sizes was not acceptable and, in fact, illegal. This is certainly true for maintained schools.

But I’ve checked with an academy and they told me that their funding agreement means that they can have whatever class sizes they want as long as they meet health and safety requirements. One SLT member told me that he could quite easily envision the situation in a few years time whereby you might have very large classes (ie 40+) in academies, provided there was the right accommodation. What you could do, he said, was have one main teacher, properly paid, and then have teaching assistants on a minimum wages helping to keep order. “You’ll hire in a few heavies on a cheap wage to keep the kids in line and then get a good teacher to take the class. That way you’ll save a lot of money on wages, and you could also say that the teacher-pupil ratio was good to the punters when, in effect, it really isn’t,” he chortled somewhat ironically: it isn’t anything he wants happening in his school, but he knows of schools where it might. This is, no doubt, what will happen, and may well be already but we simply don’t know about it because academies and free schools are not accountable or transparent in the way LA schools are.

No wonder Sir Michael Wilshaw is calling for Local Commissioners to keep an eye on these schools!

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Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

Categories Government policyTags, , , , 1 Comment

One thought on “Will we see class sizes of 30+ in academies and free schools in the future?”

  1. Alternatively, an Academy with freedom to depart from national pay scales for teachers could have small class sizes by having more teachers on lower salaries instead of the teacher + TA combo. Some teachers might find the trade-off between salary and reduced workload attractive.

    This is something that non-academies could also do, if they were able to placate the unions locally – eg by employing a large number of Higher Level TAs and using them to teach classes regularly rather than as an exception.

    It might be a way for poorer perfoming schools which had excess space to improve themselves – small classes would not be an option for schools that are already at the edge of their physical capacity.

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