Labour sounds alarm on sharp rise in infant class sizes under Coalition

Shadow minister says focus on free schools has been at cost of overcrowding elsewhere

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The Independent Online

There has been a dramatic rise in class sizes, with the number of five- to seven-year-olds taught in classes of more than 30 rise by 200 per cent in four years to 93,000, the official school census has shown.

The number of infant classes of more than 30 has rocketed from 995 to 2,985 since 2010, the year the Coalition came to power, according to figures published by the Department for Education.

They also show that 40,000 children in primary schools are taught in classes of more than 36 pupils. According to Labour’s analysis of the figures, 445 children are taught in classes with at least 70 pupils.

Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, will highlight the trend in a keynote speech today outlining the party’s policy on education.

“In 2008 David Cameron said ‘the more we can get class sizes down the better’ but as parents and pupils prepare to begin the new school year there are real concerns about the number of infants in classes of more than 30 under the Tories,” he will say.

Mr Hunt argues that the rise in infant class sizes has been brought about by the Government’s concentration on establishing new free schools – which have not always been in areas with the greatest need for more school places.

“By diverting resources away from areas in desperate need of more primary school places in favour of pursuing his pet project of expensive free schools in areas where there is no shortage of places, David Cameron has created classes of more than 40, 50, 60 and even 70 pupils,” he will say.

According to Labour’s analysis, more than 13,000 primary school children are in classes of more than 40, with 5,817 in classes of more than 50 and 2,556 in classes of more than 60.

At one school, St Nicholas Church of England school in West Berkshire, more than 500 pupils are taught in classes of more than 36.

Labour outlawed infant classes of more than 30 pupils in 1997 after making the policy one of its key election pledges that year. However, schools can now be granted an exemption from that limit. It was argued that if a school had 31 pupils in a class, it was wasteful to force it to hire an extra teacher.

Labour claims that if class sizes increase at their present rate, one in four infants will be taught in a class of more than 30 by the end of the next five-year Parliament.

The statistics show that the number of infant classes of more than 30 has tripled from 1.8 per cent of all classrooms to 5.1 per since 2010. However, the percentage of primary school pupils in classes of 36 or more has fallen marginally over the four-year period.

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, said: “Tristram Hunt seems to have forgotten that it was Labour who cut 200,000 primary school places in the middle of a baby boom – at the same time as letting immigration get out of control.

“As part of our long-term economic plan, the difficult decisions we’ve taken have meant we’ve been able to double the funding to local authorities for school places to £5bn, creating 260,000 new places.”