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The Baby Boom

Miranda is one of our regular Protobloggers and a primary teacher who works in schools in Manchester through Protocol Education. Today she asks whether the new three-form entry primary schools, built to meet increasing demand, are really the best solution.

The Baby Boom:  A Blessing or a Curse for Primary Education?

You get about as a day-to-day supply teacher and although it could be said that you miss out on the smaller-picture, you do manage to make some sense of the bigger picture.  Primary schools are clearly feeling the strain of the mini-baby boom, especially in the cities. London for example, has seen the school age population rise to 17%. And popping up everywhere is the local authorities’ answer to surging numbers of little darlings – massive monster three-form entry primaries in smart new buildings.

But are these well-resourced snazzy new super schools really providing the best possible start for our children? Or are they simply Frankenstein’s monsters, bolted together from parts that don’t quite fit and in danger of turning rogue?

Most of the merged schools I’ve taught at can boast some exceptional resources that’s for sure. Down every blinding white corridor, a fresh bank of new IT flourishes – pcs, laptops, ipads, macs, A3 colour printers, educational software to die for.

And the space. Wow!  Forget those dingy, characterful Victorian school buildings with windows accessible only with a wobbly eight-foot pole. The new super schools come with amazing purpose-built zones for interventions, where children who find the classroom too challenging, can access the space and stuff they need to get through. The big bright staff-rooms, which come with cushions and internet-enabled study corners as standard now, seem to promote positivity and a buzz of idea-sharing.

A 1970s school kid, such as me, would surely swop every shrinky-dink in their pocket for the playground equipment on offer to 21st century kids – pirate-ships, mini-allotments, butterfly gardens, wigwams, story chairs, bridges, rope swings and so forth. Despite all this though, I often get a horrible feeling that I’ve slept through the sentencing part and gone straight into a stretch in an open prison.

Last year, in a school created from three merged primaries, I was handed a bleeper to allow me access to various corridors. CCTV craned its neck to follow me round as I searched for the Ladies. Over a hidden tannoy, the secretary’s voice whispered, ‘Loos second on the left. Don’t let any children in.’ Outside the double-glazed corridor children (some injured by playground falls) mimed their pleas to be allowed inside.

The lesson plans I was given, paid a heavy debt to the new IT. No doubt they wanted to get good use out of it. I was asked to give six pre-prepared PowerPoint slideshows to cover sessions in Literacy, Maths, R.E, Science and Art. I have to admit, I felt the children seemed bored, like little business people kept too long from their networking opportunities.  

In the playground, a member of staff who was constantly swivelling her head around like a broken Barbie, complained that the TAs never got a proper break. All were needed to stand guard over ten classrooms each designed with a door to the outside, through which the kids would spend their playtimes trying to slip into.  The sheer numbers of the intake made military rigour on the corridors essential. No laughing, no skipping, no speaking. It’s all very Ofsted but it seems a shame that the best we can offer to our youngest children is a total immersion approach to institutionalisation.

How to manage the numbers? How to finesse costs so we can all afford great resources? How to give children the warmth they need at the outset of their education?
I suspect the best answers will come from where they’ve always come from…A good teacher is simply a good teacher, whether they are working in a soulless temple to modernity or a frozen Victorian hovel.

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Tags: Miranda, Primary Schools, Supply Teacher, Baby Boom, Teach in Manchester, Protocol Education

Category: Australian Teachers

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