Leading article: Teachers are right... class sizes matter

Share
Related Topics

The mood of militancy emanating from the National Union of Teachers' conference this Easter means that schools in England and Wales may face the first national teachers' strike for 22 years. So what's new, you might ask. There are often strike calls at teachers' conferences that never come to anything. This year, though, the mood is different, and the militancy comes from the top, not from rank and file activists trying to overturn more moderate leadership.

There are two issues driving the calls for industrial action – pay and class sizes. On both, the Government can fairly claim to have improved the situation in its early years. But on both they can now be accused of backsliding.

Pay is the most immediate issue with a one-day national stoppage planned for next month, followed by a rolling programme of further action through the summer. Teachers argue that the profession is again facing difficulties retaining staff, with half of all new recruits leaving after three years.

But it is on class sizes that the union detects that ministerial good intentions have gone into reverse. One of Tony Blair's five key promises (indeed, his only education promise among them) was a legal limit of 30 on class sizes for five to seven-year-olds. He delivered that ahead of time, but there was a widespread assumption that it would be just the first step towards smaller classes throughout the system. Teachers, and many parents, were happy that the Government seemed to share their view that small classes were a good thing in themselves.

Quite soon, though, it became clear there would be no further effort to reduce class numbers. One reason was apparently research (from the United States) which showed that only a major reduction – say, from 25 to 15 – would significantly affect standards. And this, it was argued behind the scenes, would be too expensive. Classes in state primary schools now average 26, compared with 10.7 in the independent sector.

It seems self evident that many parents go private because each child is likely to receive more attention. The United Kingdom has some of the largest primary classes in the western world. More worrying, though, is that ministers' language on class sizes has changed. They no longer talk of pupil/teacher ratios, but of adult/teacher ratios – counting teachers and classroom assistants in the same way.

There can be no doubt that the army of classroom assistants recruited by Labour has been of great help to teachers – relieving them of tasks that they should not have been saddled with. The teachers' unions, however, argued from the start that they would be used as "cheap labour" to replace more expensive teachers. Eleven years on, their worst suspicions may be on the way to being confirmed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee