Miliband vows to cap class sizes for infants

Ed Miliband. Photo : Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Ed Miliband. Photo : Peter Byrne/PA Wire
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ED Miliband is to announce plans to cap class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds and issue a call to arms to get “the best” qualified teachers who left to return to the profession.

The Labour leader will say today that a cap limiting class sizes so they are not bigger than 30 for more than 12 months will be acvhieved by ending the “The Tory practice” of opening free schools in areas which do not need them.

He is also expected to set out plans for all areas of the country to be given a “standards challenge” modelled on the school improvement programme which is credited with transforming London schools.

Labour say the increase in the number class sizes of more than 30 is in part because of the coalition Government’s decision to open free schools in places that already have a surplus of places.

However the Conservatives said primary school classes were already capped at 30, and that Labour’s proposals would mean getting rid of “sensible exceptions” such as rules to ensure the children of armed forces personnel got places and that twins were not split up.

Mr Miliband is expected to say: “Since 2010, the number of the youngest children taught in classes bigger than 30 has gone up by almost 60,000. It is treble the number it was. And it is set to get far worse.

“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.

“This will allow us to cap class sizes for five, six, and seven year olds at no more than 30 pupils.”

A Public Accounts Committee report last year said that although 87 per cent of projected primary places in the free schools opened so far were in districts that had forecast a high or severe need for extra places, only 19 per cent of secondary places in the free schools opened so far were in such areas.

Mr Miliband will say that the plan for new directors of school standards will help to recreate the impact of the London Challenge in other parts of the country.

The directors “will have a specific mission to drive up standards in every type of local school: local authority run, academies and free schools”.

“And they will have clear objectives, a Standards Challenge, agreed when they are appointed because we must now do the same in terms of driving up standards in all our regions that the last Labour government did in London,” he will say.

Councils in Yorkshire are already currently working on an attempt to emulate The London Challenge and similar system wide school improvement schemes in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. However the project does not have financial backing from central Government like the London Challenge had unde the previous Government.

At present the Yorkshire pathfinder initiative has seen just over 25 improving schools working together in groups. Prof Mel Ainscow who is leading the project has called for larger scale school improvement schemes to get the county off the bottom of league tables. However it is unclear how such a programme would be funded.

Last month the shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt welcomed the idea of Yorkshire schools emulating the London Challenge but gave a cautious answer when asked if a Labour government would give it cash backing.

He said: “Money matters, let us be very clear about that. But I have to be honest, I cannot go into the DfE and come out with large sums of new money for different parts of country.”

In Mr Miliband’s speech today on education he says that Labour should always be “the eternal warriors for higher standards”.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is also putting education at the heart of the general election campaign with a pledge to protect spending “from nursery to college throughout the next parliament.”

The commitment is the first of five priorities highlighted on the front page of the Lib Dems’ election manifesto published today. The full manifesto will be released once the campaign gets under way in April.