The study from the University of Exeter, the first to look at the attitudes of all those directly involved in schools, reveals that primary school headteachers, teachers, governors and parents believe that the recent increase in class sizes is one of the most important educational issues.
Just before the 1992 general election, Kenneth Clarke, the then Secretary of State for Education, dismissed class size as a 'relatively minor issue'. Eric Forth, the schools minister, told the Commons last year: 'I do not believe there is any proven connection between class size and the quality of education.'
One parent quoted in the report says: 'Any half-wit should realise that increasing class size is detrimental to a child's education.'
The research by Professor Neville Bennett - which was commissioned by four teachers' unions and the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education, a parents' group - examined the views of nearly 1,300 parents and headteachers, teachers and governors in 169 primary schools.
It shows that more teachers than before - almost one- third - are teaching classes of more than 30 children. For those teaching 7- to 11-year olds the figure is 40 per cent.
Six out of ten teachers say the size of their classes has increased in the last few years. About 9,000 children are in classes of more than 40.
Professor Bennett said: 'Large numbers of parents feel unhappy about the provision for their children in the public education system. This survey has produced a rare consensus of concern by both the providers and consumers of primary schooling.'
Parents with children in classes of more than 30 are particularly discontented.
One parent said: 'My two very able children are moving to a private school with 11 and 13 children in their respective classes - the curriculum is not so exciting but I know they will be occupied, motivated and actively taught.'
Parents, teachers and governors were all worried about the effect of increasing class size on the amount of individual attention that children receive, assessment and standards of work. Teachers and parents questioned in the report agreed that the best size for a primary class was 22. In three-quarters of schools, governors had discussed the problems of class size and changed teaching arrangements in favour of classes with the youngest children.
Professor Bennett dismissed government claims that there was no objective evidence to show that class size affected learning. 'There is no evidence because the Government has not provided the money for anyone to do the research on the effect of class size in this country,' he said.
The Department for Education said: 'Reducing class sizes is not always the most urgent priority. Sometimes spending on classroom support may be a more effective use of resources.'
Education boost, page 6Reuse content