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The myth of surplus places

Having been involved with fighting school closures one of the things that is most dishonest about it is the myth of surplus places. Someone comes along and applies a formula that tells them the capacity of the school, they then subtract the actual number of pupils from the capacity to generate the surplus places. That usually gets presented as a % because that usually helps make it look worse.

So what’s wrong with it? Clearly we don’t want schools to be running half full all over the place, but there are a number of things that make this measure, basically, a load of crap.

Firstly, there’s the application of a formula. I don’t have a major problem with this. However, I do have a problem with it when a school seems able to opt in or out of it, or part of it. Presented with two schools with exactly the same footprint they were shown having different capacities. How could that be? The space is exactly the same. Well, one school had a classroom designated as a library so that space didn’t count towards the capacity. In other words, designate a classroom as a library and you cut your surplus places over night! That’s clearly ridiculous. Likewise a formula can be changed, and in essence you can have as many surplus places as you like depending on the formula you chose to have.

Secondly, there’s the propaganda aspect. What councils don’t want to do is upset the parents in the schools that don’t close. Often because there’s lots of them. So the talk is of surplus places and how these schools with many surplus places are robbing the other children of cash. Hence, if we shut these schools it will be better. What they fail to mention is that the average class size in the receiving schools is about to go up. Not only that, the money saved by shutting the schools with surplus places isn’t going to end up making the other schools budgets better. So the receiving schools get bigger class sizes and no extra money (apart from that for having extra pupils). Net result..we’re all worse off.

Why not use average class size? Independent schools are very fond of stating average class sizes to parents. That wouldn’t suit the people trying to shut the schools. Those small schools with surplus places would have a low average class size, which would make them look good. So councils would look bad shutting them. It would also make parents want to send their children to these small schools. The larger schools with large average class size then don’t look so good and parents would be up in arms at there being an increase.

Powys County Council are going full steam ahead shutting small schools, increasing  class sizes across the county and then cutting funding. Don’t be fooled; there’s nothing good educationally about it.



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July 2013
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