University students blamed for empty school places

Derwent Primary School, off Osbaldwick Road, is boasting spare places for around 30 children across its infant and junior schools.

These figures have come to light after the school placed adverts in local magazines to promote the extra classroom spaces still available.

Governors at the educational establishment are purported to have made the decision to advertise following a decline in student figures. The school’s management believe that this drop in applicants is directly linked to the increasing number of houses in the area that are being bought and converted for the student market.

Roger Pierce, chairman of governors at Derwent Primary, said there had been a "major change" in the demographics of the local population as a result of a rise in the number of students attending nearby York University, with homes usually occupied by young families housing student tenants instead.

The advert, placed in the York Local Link magazine, is hoped to attract around five pupils for each class.

However, the University refutes that they have control over the student housing market and brands the claims an ‘over-simplification’ of the various factors that may be contributing to the lower numbers.

Of course, the arguments made by the school governors recall last year’s attempts by the council to limit the number of student homes in the area by applying strict, new measures.

Janet Looker, a York labour city councillor, has reaffirmed that the council is continuing to battle for more on-campus accommodation for University of York students, but with many colleges on the Heslington West campus reaching the end of their life span, simply finding enough accommodation for the first year undergraduates is a challenge for the University team.

With just 131 pupils on its roll, Derwent Primary is undoubtedly a small school, but there are additional benefits to be reaped from having fewer children per class. In its latest interim inspection, OFSTED reported on recommendations it had made to the school in the summer of 2010. The inspectorate found that standards in writing attainment had risen from less than a quarter of pupils meeting nationally expected levels to almost three quarters by the autumn of 2011.

Such a dramatic change in achievement is arguably the result of the smaller class sizes and ensures that the children are in a teaching environment that rivals fee-paying, private schools.

If the increased student population is indeed contributing to these reduced class numbers, the governors should stop looking at the school as a business opportunity thwarted by York University and focus on the positive outcomes for young learners.

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