Row over rising class sizes on primary school offer day

Tristram Hunt. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Tristram Hunt. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

More than 100,000 infants are now being taught in “supersize” classes it was claimed today as parents found out if their child has a place at their chosen school.

Primary school offer day was expected to bring big variations in the numbers getting into their first choice - with parents in parts of West Yorkshire more likely to miss out than those elsewhere in the county.

There has been ongoing controversy over pressure on school places with the Local Government Association warning that cities including Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull could face shortages by next year.

Now new figures, published by Labour, claim the numbers of young children being taught in classes of over 30 pupils has reached its highest level for 15 years. The party’s analysis of Freedom of Information requests to local councils, indicates around 102,615 pupils aged between five and seven are being taught in classes with at least 31 children. This is up from 93,345 infants being taught in large classes last year, and 31,265 children in 2010. In 2000, there were 176,962 pupils in classes of over 30.

Labour blamed the rise on the Conservatives, who it said had spent £241m setting up free schools in areas where there was not a shortage of places. Shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, said: “The crisis in school places is yet more evidence that the Tory plan is failing working families. It is thanks to David Cameron and his decision to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on a few free schools in areas where there are no shortages of places that the number of young children in supersize classes has more than tripled since 2010 and parents are finding it harder to get a place for their child at a local school.” He claimed scrapping the free school programme would allow a Labour Government to ensure to no class had more than 30 pupils for more than a year.

He said Labour would not close existing free schools or those in the pipeline. But he added that no state school’s future could be guaranteed forever if it continued with significant empty places.

A Conservative Party spokesman blamed pressure on places on Labour saying: “Labour cut over 200,000 primary school places – and even ignored official warnings to provide extra school places after a baby boom.

“The Conservatives have created over 400,000 school places. There are fewer children in overcrowded primary schools and most importantly, one million more children in good or outstanding schools since 2010.

“Chaotic Labour can’t even get their facts right.” However Mr Hunt said that the pressure on places facing schools from 2015/16 were for children born during the coalition Government’s term of office.

Initial figures from councils today show 97 per cent of pupils in Sheffield were allocated one of their choices of schools with 89 per cent getting into their first choice. In Hull more than 92 per cent of children have been allocated their first preference school, compared to 89 per cent last year.