Heads warn of backlash over rising class sizes

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Headteachers have warned of a political backlash among the middle classes if ministers fail to cut class sizes at primary and secondary schools.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said yesterday that government efforts to cut class sizes for infants were increasing class sizes for children aged nine to 14, and were encouraging more mixed-age classes. He called on the Government to expand its efforts to reduce class sizes to all primary and secondary classes.

"The middle classes will revolt if they see class sizes expand at the top of primary schools and the bottom of secondary schools," he said. "Parents will revolt in increasing numbers if they do not see class sizes being brought under reasonable control."

He was speaking ahead of the publication of the latest class-size figures for primary and secondary schools, due to be released on Wednesday.

The issue is a sensitive one for the Government. Overall pupil-teacher ratios have fallen in nursery and primary schools because of efforts to eliminate classes of more than 30 pupils for children aged five to seven by September next year. But pupil-teacher ratios in secondary schools have increased slightly since 1997.

Ministers pumped £150m into schools last year to cut the number of infant children in large classes from 485,000 to about 180,000, according to figures in September.

Wednesday's figures will give the definitive picture for this year, based on an official census of all schools taken three months ago.

Senior government sources dismissed Mr Hart's comments, arguing that he "will look foolish" when the statistics are released.

Gale Waller, education officer for the Local Government Association, said: "We are aware that the infant class size regulation has in some cases had an adverse impact further up the school and there is some mixed-age teaching." But she said some schools used mixed-age classes by choice.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The feeling among head teachers is that money is not getting through to core budgets and the pupil-teacher rations are not going down. I shall be very surprised if there is a fall in class sizes in secondary schools."