Labour schools plan under fire

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Indy Politics
Labour's policy of reducing infant class sizes would restrict parental choice at popular primary schools, a new study said yesterday.

The party has promised to cut class sizes for five to seven-year-olds to a maximum of 30 using money from the Assisted Places Scheme which subsidises bright pupils at private schools. But a study from the Institute of Public Finance suggests the cost would rise dramatically unless more children were refused places at popular schools and directed to those with spare places.

Labour last night denied the report's suggestion that legislation would be necessary to restrict primary class sizes but accepted that appeals panels deciding admissions to popular schools would have to take class size into account.

At present, many oversized classes are the result of successful appeals by parents refused places by schools which say they are full.

In some cases, the report says, education authorities could reduce class sizes simply by redistributing pupils, though this might prove unpopular with parents. In more remote areas, new teachers and new classrooms would be needed.

The report calculates that, over the seven years in which the assisted places scheme is phased out, the money saved would be at least pounds 250m short of that required. Reducing infant class sizes would cost about pounds 65m a year plus around pounds 100m in capital costs, it says. Savings from assisted places would build up to about pounds 49m a year after seven years and the accumulated deficit would then be pounds 250m. The cost of educating the 34,000 pupils now on the scheme in state schools would still have to be met by the taxpayer, the report says.

Peter Kilfoyle, shadow schools minister, said: "An additional 318,000 pupils have been accommodated in state schools over the last three years with no extra grant from the Exchequer. It is ridiculous to suggest that the cost of providing for 6,000 pupils a year who might otherwise have gone on assisted places is an addition".

A spokesman added: "There would be a partnership between schools and local authorities to ensure that parental demands were met."

David Woodhead, director of the Independent Schools Information Service which commissioned the report, said: "This analysis shows that Labour would issue a double blow to parental choice. Not only would poor families lose the opportunity of an independent school education but many more parents will find the doors of popular primary schools shut."