Oversized classes 'have trebled'

Labour's shadow education secretary Lucy Powell.
Labour's shadow education secretary Lucy Powell.
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THE number of children taught in classrooms with too many pupils in has trebled in Yorkshire in the past five years, leading to fears over behaviour and attainment.

THE number of children taught in classrooms with too many pupils in has trebled in Yorkshire in the past five years, leading to fears over behaviour and attainnment.

Across the region 11,000 more key stage one children are learning in classes with 31 pupils or more than in 2010, with the biggest increases in Kirklees, Barnsley, Doncaster, Leeds and Rotherham.

Primary schools are also growing in size nationally, with so-called ‘titan’ schools – those with more than 800 pupils – now at a five year high.

Labour’s Shadow Education Minister Lucy Powell described the situation at key stage one as a ‘crisis that the Government is

not dealing with’ and that with the baby boom making

years three and four larger than average, this problem will soon hit the region’s secondary schools too.

She criticised the Conservative Government for making it harder for local authorities to respond to more children needing spaces by not allowing them to build any more new schools.

She said: “This is a crisis that the Government is not dealing with and in fact, more than that, they are making it worse, because their free-for-all free school programmme has meant that much of the money that is available to create new school places is actually going into areas that haven’t got the demand.

“That’s led to schools having to squash more and more kids into the classes that they’ve got.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said they will invest £23bn in school buildings between 2016 and 2021, including 500 new free schools and create 600,000 new school places.

Parents list class sizes among their top four concerns over their children’s education, according to Mrs Powell, who said even one extra pupil can have an impact on children’s progress.

In January 2010, 5,240 pupils in Yorkshire were in classes with 31 or more pupils. In 2015 it was 16,241 pupils, an increase of 11,001 or 210 per cent.

The Government say that 95.5 per cent of the infant classes in Yorkshire with more than 30 pupils have only one or two additional children but Mrs Powell said just one extra child per class can make a significant difference.

While she admitted the “evidence isn’t as poweful as parents concerned might consider it to be”, she said there was validity in the Blair-era cap of no more than 30 pupils per classroom.

She said: “The reason why Labour introduced the cap on class sizes of 30 was because it was at the high end of the spectrum in terms of what was good for children and what parents demanded. It could be a case of one or two [extra] pupils per class, so it could have gone from 31 to 32.

“As a parent myself I even think that just one or two extra children in the class can have quite an impact in terms of the attention that children receive.”

She said if figures continue to rise “behaviour, attainment and concentration” are all adversely impacted.

A Conservative spokesperson said councils in Yorkshire received almost £340m in funding between 2011 and 2015 to

create over 25,000 new primary places by May 2014 and many more had been delivered since then.

He said: “That’s why the average infant class size in the region has fallen slightly to 27.2, despite an increase of around 1,600 infant pupils since last year.

“And we have gone further still by committing to an investment of over £310m in new school places in the area over the next three years.”