Class sizes for five to seven-year-olds will be capped at 30 by an incoming Labour government, Ed Miliband will announce today as he echoes one of Tony Blair’s landmark pledges in 1997.
Mr Miliband will accuse the Coalition of allowing the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30 to rise from 31,265 in 2010 to 93,345 last year.
Labour argues that it can fund the £180m cost of its cap by ending the Government’s practice of creating free schools in areas that do not need them. Labour says this has resulted in more than 30,000 places where they are not required at a cost of £250m.
Schools with oversized classes would have 12 months to bring them down to 30 under Labour’s plan. It would create more places at oversubscribed schools which parents often put as their first choice but miss out on.
Labour claims that on current trends, the number of classes over 30 would grow to 11,000 - close to the level when the party won a landslide in 1997. At that election, one of Mr Blair’s five pledges was to cut class sizes for five to seven-year-olds to under 30. The others on its pledge card concerned youth unemployment, economic stability, NHS waiting lists and waiting times for young offenders and were all met.
Mr Miliband positioned himself as not Blair when he won the Labour leadership in 2010, but will issue a similar pledge card with five promises before the May general election. They will be on the deficit, immigration, the NHS, young people and living standards.
With Labour committed to matching the Coalition’s day-to-day spending in the 2015-16 financial year, the Labour manifesto will include several “switch spends” like the class size policy because it would not have the money for new projects.
Speaking at his old school – Haverstock, a comprehensive in Camden, North London – Mr Miliband will say: “Successful teaching and classroom discipline is made harder when classes are so much bigger. Our plan will turn this round.
“Currently, the government is spending money on new Free Schools, in areas where there are surplus places. This simply makes no sense when class sizes are rising in the way they are. Or when people can’t get their kids into the good schools they want. So by ending the scandalous waste of money from building new schools in areas of surplus places, we will create more places where they are needed.”
After criticism from some bosses that he is “anti-business”, Mr Miliband will say: “In the 21st century, world class education isn't a luxury for the individual. It's a necessity. For Britain’s young people to succeed. For British business to succeed. For Britain to succeed. So if we are to restore the Promise of Britain by which the next generation does better than the last, we need to fulfil the promise of our young people.”
A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year found that UK class sizes are bigger than those in most other developed countries because schools focus on teacher quality rather than pupil numbers. It placed the UK joint-fifth out of 33 nations.
Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, has said the government has doubled funding for local authorities for school places to £5bn, creating 260,000 new places. She argued that Labour’s policy would create more bureaucrats and result in more money being spent on paperwork rather than places.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies