Friday 13 March 2015

STOP Factory Farming the Education of Primary School Children

Guest blog by Kaye James

(Definition of Factory Farming: Intensive, factory - Intensive because as many animals as possible are crammed together in the smallest possible space; Factory because the philosophy of mass production is what lies behind it all.)

Are any parents watching Britain’s Biggest Primary School on Channel 5 and stamping their feet with regret that they dont live in the catchment area of this school?

Whilst applauding the amazing job that the Head Teacher and his staff are doing on a daily basis in terms of the logistics of handling such a mammoth task of teaching, feeding and managing the welfare of 1,100 pupils, should we not be questioning whether this set-up will provide a long term return-on-investment in the education of our next generation? 

Super-size, or Titan schools such as the one featured in the documentary are a quite recent invention here, and have rapidly been taking off across the UK as a quick fix to cover the obvious lack of long-term planning and investment in primary schools over the past years. Due to the fact that the Titan school concept hasnt been around for very long in this country there has been no research here. Is the education of the next generation really something so unimportant that it can be subjected to such a high risk, unproven strategy? 

However, we do know about the effects of Super-size schools from experience on the other side of the pond - where everything is bigger but does that mean better? Super-size schools have been a part of the public education system for a much longer period of time and in March 2009 a review of 57 separate studies concerning the size of schools in the United States of America and Canada was published in the American Educational Research Association Journal:

This review examined 57 post-1990 empirical studies of school size effects on a variety of student and organizational outcomes. The weight of evidence provided by this research clearly favors smaller schools. Students who traditionally struggle at school and students from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds are the major benefactors of smaller schools. Elementary schools with large proportions of such students should be limited in size to not more than about 300 students; those serving economically and socially heterogeneous or relatively advantaged students should be limited in size to about 500 students.

A Review of Empirical Evidence About School Size Effects: A Policy Perspectiveby Kenneth Leithwood and Doris Jantzi (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto).

David Cameron fought the previous General Election pledging to close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest . . . to make opportunity more equal and address our declining social mobility. The 2010 Conservative election manifesto stated:  

A Conservative government will give many more children access to the kind of education that is currently only available to the well-off: safe classrooms, talented and specialist teachers, access to the best curriculum and exams, and smaller schools with smaller class sizes with teachers who know the childrens names.

In fact, the number of primary schools with more than 800 pupils rocketed by an unbelievable 381% between January 2010 and 2014. (figures, as yet, unavailable for January 2015)

It is, perhaps, no surprise that the Titan primaries are not springing up in well-off areas.  If you have the wherewithal  to choose where your children are educated, you do not choose to place them in this type of school.

During an era where young people from deprived areas:

rioted in the streets in 2011,

spend more time in a virtual community

are finding it more and more difficult to find work

are being radicalised

are disaffected, disengaged and without aspiration, and 1 in 10 are now suffering from anxiety and depression.

Why are politicians scratching their heads and wondering why - while at the same time piling young children into ever-bigger, more anonymous schools?

With all this in mind it is therefore no surprise that the plans of Brent Council to almost double the current intake of Byron Court Primary School in Wembley are being met with strong objections from the majority of parents. The school is planning to increase the intake to 1100 (1050 plus 50 nursery pupils) - the same number as Gascoigne, the school featured in the Channel 5 show on a site that is a quarter of the size.

Byron Court is located in a catchment area which doesnt even show clear evidence of need for places - they will be shipped in from Alperton and Sudbury (up to 5km away). There is also a mega-school currently being constructed less than 10mins walk away at Wembley High, with pupils being shipped in from Stonebridge and Harlesden (up to 7km away).  Why not invest in schools where the places are actually needed, instead of putting all the eggs in one or two very large baskets?

What do we have to do to get politicians to address this issue? And for Brent Council, and other similar Councils, to re-think this method of Factory Farming  the Education of our children.  


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Both rounds of the public consultation received over 80% objections, over 1,000 signatures on two petition against the planned expansion and this proposal is still going before Brent council cabinet with a recommendation to approve! There I was thinking that our council and our schools were there to serve our community - how naive of me!