For half an afternoon a week, I used to volunteer at daughter’s infant school. Whilst, I know that my daughter’s infant school is/was an “outstanding school” with dedicated, brilliant, hard-working teachers, I was nonetheless shocked to enter the classrooms and see how chaotic a room of 30 five-year olds was. Spending time, week after week in the classroom, I came to the realisation that there were simply too many children in that classroom. Thirty, five-year-old children in one classroom struggled to sit still for the time enough time required for the teacher to talk. Teaching was regularly interrupted, understandably by children needing water, the toilet or simply wanting to share their thoughts about the subject being discussed. Many of the children seemed bored by the lengthy times spent having to sit on the carpet or at their desk, being talked at and their attention clearly waivered. With such large classrooms the learning seemed often to occur by rote with little time for questions or exploration of the subject. It seemed to me the ‘real learning’ for most of the children occurred when teaching support staff, who took small groups out of the classroom in groups of 4 and 5 to concentrate on a specific area usually reading or maths. I myself, helped children with their reading and maths in small groups of up four which worked well. The environment was intense, noisy and physically cramped and I often came home feeling slightly overwhelmed, thinking it was a miracle, that the children learnt anything.
I was therefore horrified to hear that in my daughters very well-respected junior school, the class size would now be 32 in an even smaller classroom. When I investigated further, I found that class sizes of 32 are standard across the city. As parents we have come to accept this as a norm but from my experience, it is clear to me that this it is not a healthy environment for children or their learning or for the teachers.
My daughter is now 8 and (like many I’m sure) she continues to be a very lively, boisterous thing. At home she never stops moving and/or singing. She ‘gets’ what needs to happen at school so complies, but when I pick her up from school, I can see that it has been a struggle to sit still, to hold it together, to stop talking, to concentrate and to try and learn. Being at school for her clearly requires lots of effort and it means when we get home she can often be quite emotional with lots of mixed up feelings. I can see she finds school stressful and I am certain it doesn’t have to be this way.
I consider our family lucky. Her teachers are brilliant, the school is one of the best locally and very highly regarded. I still have lots of contact with the school and I can see everyone at school she encounters tries their hardest to to do their best by her. However, there is no getting away from the fact, I feel that her class is too big with too many children with different, competing and at times complex needs. The fact that 2/3 of schools locally have had to reduce school support staff really worries me. I know that, it is these staff that have historically supported teachers to ensure learning can happen for all the children. The fact that my daughter learns anything is a testament to the hard work of her teachers and the support staff. If our school were to lose any more support staff, I am certain my daughter’s learning would grind to a complete halt.
Finally, I wish school could be more of a joyous experience for my daughter. I wish it could be an experience filled with a sense of wonder, pleasure and discovery, rather than an experience she simply must endure. It makes me sad for her and for the children of her time and I worry that collectively as parents we are allowing the government of the day to fail them.