Class size pledge 'won't work'

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ONE OF the Government's main election pledges - cuts in class sizes - will not be met unless thousands more pupils are taught in mixed- age classes, says a report published today.

The 70-page study from consultants Coopers & Lybrand also predicts that the Prime Minister's promise to cut infant class sizes to a maximum of 30 by the end of this Parliament will restrict parents' choice of school.

Yesterday, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) warned that mixed-age classes were more difficult to teach and might jeopardise the Government's new literacy hour.

More classes of children of different ages will transform the way primary schools are organised in many places, says the report. At present, just under a quarter of infants are in mixed-age classes, which are generally unpopular with parents.

The report examines different ways in which local education authorities can achieve the reductions being demanded by the Government. Half of primary schools have one oversized infant class. It argues: "In our view the policy of reducing class sizes is likely to result in a rise in the incidence of mixed-age classes in primary schools. In turn, this is likely to generate a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of mixed-age teaching and the additional demands it may place on schools."

A spokesman for Ofsted said: "Our view is that it is more difficult to teach mixed-age classes partly because of the range of attainment and because of the range of emotional development. They will also make it more difficult to do the whole-class teaching required for the literacy hour."

The report, commissioned by the Local Government Association, suggests that other ways of reducing class size will limit parents' choice of school. More than half of all classes with 30 or more pupils are the result of parental appeals over admissions.

To provide an extra class in each school with an oversized class would be prohibitively expensive, but to provide extra classes only in some schools in an area might cut across parental choice. The cheapest and quickest solution would be to use empty places in less popular schools, but that too would restrict parents' choice.

Graham Lane, the association's chairman, who will meet ministers today, said: "The Government must take note of this document and its practical, detailed issues or it will not deliver its election pledge. There is sufficient money in the system, but ministers need to address the problems of mixed- age schooling and admission appeals."

Leading article, page 20

Education+, in The Eye