Who would want to be a parent of children in or approaching primary school? The trauma of wanting your child to get the very best education in the best local school has become a battle which many parents fail to achieve. Behind the scenes Headteachers are dealing with the harsh facts; there are not enough primary school places and not enough teachers.
The reasons for the lack of places is very clear the solution less so. Owing to immigration and predicted birth rates, the office for national statistics (ONS) forecast some 10 years ago there would be a significant need for more places in primary school. Recession, government cutbacks – ignoring the speaker; John Bercow’s new £1.1m gym in the house of commons have taken their toll. Throw in the new, laudable, hot meals regime in reception class where no primary school had budgeted for the kitchens and cooks required, and it is plain to see why we are struggling.
The shortfalls in buildings and teaching resources have no easy solution. Using military resources to man the pumps has no application here that is unless we make use of the imminent supply of redundant Generals and Brigadiers who may be able to resolve the logistics issues. It will take years of Portakabins and supply teachers to provide the resource shortfall
In a time when Free-schools are occupying disused police offices and libraries the state system seems to have lost out. Instead of building HS2, which may or may not service a predicted need in 20 years time, some of the cash should be diverted to build new schools now. It would provide construction work to stimulate the economy and gainful employment. Critically it would provide the schooling resources needed now – not in 20 years. An alternative would be to requisition empty office space especially in inner cities.
Regretfully this is a hopeless case as we approach the general election. All bets are off until June when the new government can start fulfilling promises. Portakabins are not a disaster they provide highly effective teaching space. As someone who was taught in Nissen huts, the temporary buildings that abounded 50 years ago, the only drawback was the feeling that someone, somewhere, had cocked up the supply and demand equation.
The supply of teachers is perhaps a greater concern. Even if we had the requisite primary school facilities we do not have teachers to fill them. The dearth of primary school teachers qualified in the subjects they are to teach has been legion. The solution is to improve the standard of the teaching. The move by Michael Gove, then the education secretary to tighten the tests has created a backlash. The entrance tests to teacher training courses have apparently been too severe. Vacancies abound, universities complain prospective students are failing to pass the maths and English tests restricting the intake. Surely this is missing the point of the tests. Ideally we would like teachers taking a maths lesson to be competent in maths. Accepting failing students would be akin to training a pilot who is afraid of heights.
The primary sector has an immense responsibility in equipping children with the essential educational ability to cope with secondary education. Understanding maths and being able to read goes without question. We need to improve the standards and attract the best students potentially on the best salaries and career opportunities, after all Britain needs brilliant students to support the future far more than gambling banks.