The Pressure of Space

The number one challenge for our school remains the continued pressure for space. I have used (over-used?) one phrase continually in the last 12 months –we are a school with 484 pupils using a site and building facilities built for 360 only. We are 34% over capacity and it shows every single day.

While we do make a fantastically varied provision of high quality activity, and teaching and learning, each is impacted by this pressure for space.

Examples this (four-day) week:

The brilliant Year 4 performance (The Emerald Crown) had an audience of over 200 adults, quite a few of whom had to stand round the back of the hall as we can only store chairs for 160. Laying out the hall as we did, so that the backdrop for the stage looked much better, meant that sunlight through the skylight windows fell on parts of the audience (rather than on the actors / dancers on stage). Replacing blinds simply isn’t justified as an expense when we have much higher priority daily demands, but maybe it is something our PTA (FOLA) might look at funding.

Thursday morning’s Yoga class had to be held in a classroom as the chairs were already out for the performance. We have just the one hall, and no specialist sports hall or dance studio. The hall had been used on Wednesday after school for a briefing for Year 6 pupils’ parents about the fast-approaching end of key stage assessments. One hall, incredibly efficiently and frequently used.

Our policy and practice over pupils’ mobile phones (Bring one if you really must, but turn it off and hand it in at the start of the day. Don’t use it one site, and collect it at the end of the day.) means we have few issues except the volume being brought. If teachers keep them in class or a store cupboard they can be too close to the owner and too easily accessed by the wrong people. If they are handed in at the office then we get a huge swell of numbers going there at exactly the time parents and other visitors want the help of admin staff. If we hand in at the classroom but store the trays securely in the office we need yet more ‘monitors’ out of class sending and fetching at either end of the day (more timeout of class and learning time lost). The simple equation here is more children = more phones = more hand-ins and more fetching.

Mud at either side of every path – numbers mean that paths cannot cope and so the passage of people swells out either side. With weather like we have the verges are under pressure and grass is becoming mud, and carpets are becoming filthy, too.

Sensory overload. Some children cope easier than others with sensory input –the sort of incidental sensory input from working in an open-plan base, for example, with 59 other children, three of four adults, two lessons going on, pupil movement and active learning. Throw in high winds, the occasional bell, movement of whole classes or groups of children, singing and musical instrument lessons, chat and social interactions and some children find this really hard to manage. They need access to quiet, calm spaces; these are very hard for us to provide while also providing the exact opposite for the other 480 or so pupils who thrive on that provision.

Don’t be misled though –this is not a negative report at all; I think we do brilliantly and creatively to use every space as fully and effectively as we can. A small room might be used for teacher’s planning, for a small group activity, a parent meeting, SEN assessment, therapeutic counselling, peripatetic music tuition, phone calls, cool-down space and storage, all on the same morning. A large room trebles up at times as an out of hours venue, a classroom and then a staff training base. The hall is used for gymnastics, PE, assembly, lunch, more PE, an after-school activity and apparent meeting. Playgrounds, even, are used for three of four things in a day – holding pupils on site who have arrived early, PE lessons, outdoor learning, breaks and lunch, after-school sports, after-school care use and pupil collection by parents / carers. (On training days the top playground doubles as a car park.)

None of us can be precious and jealous of ‘our’ spaces as they have to be in multi-purpose us each week. By this we manage to meet almost all pupils needs almost all the time.

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