Call to allow infant class sizes above 30 children

Catherine Gaunt
Friday, January 6, 2012

A London council is asking the Government to consider whether the limit on infant class sizes should be raised above 30 pupils.

Sutton Council has written to other local authorities in London asking for their views on increasing the class size limit to 32.

Legislation brought in by Tony Blair has limited class sizes to 30 since 1998.

The council says that the capital’s baby boom means that there is increasing pressure on school places, with demand expected to peak between 2012 and 2015.

Between 2001 and 2007 Sutton had a birth rate increase of 28 per cent.

The letter from the council’s chief executive asks for backing from other local authorities on raising infant class sizes to 32, a number which the council says is ‘a pragmatic compromise between educational viability and financial prudency.’

The council claims that if class sizes had been set at 32, it would not have had to spend £7m on funding additional class sizes for 2012. It says that because it has been expanding primary class sizes for a number of years, all other options to meet demand have been exhausted.

It says that Sutton currently has 33 schools with Reception classes and that by admitting two more pupils to each class it would have provided 130 additional places. This would have provided the number of additional classes – equivalent to almost five – the council required, without any building programmes.

After the letter was leaked to the press, the council’s chief executive Niall Bolger said in a statement, ‘Increasing class sizes is not a Sutton Council policy or something that has been discussed at a political level. My letter is a basic piece of research, so that senior officers can present councillors with informed choices.

‘There is a dreadful shortage of primary school places and we can’t ignore the situation, especially when our schools, which are some of the best in the country, are attracting so many families.’

Last year, a London Councils’ report predicted a shortfall of 70,000 primary and secondary school places over the next four years, with the greatest shortage in primary schools.

Early years consultant Julie Cigman said increasingly children were expected to be ready for school, when instead schools should be ready for children to provide appropriately for their development.

‘This requires early years practitioners to make open observations of children, of their interests, their learning styles, and then enjoy helping them to learn about the world and develop skills, while they are playing.

‘Larger class sizes will inevitably make it harder for practitioners to make good observations, and is very likely to lead to more adult-directed teaching. It’s already happening.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘The law remains clear that it is illegal for infant class sizes to exceed 30 pupils – no parent would want their child taught in a huge class.

‘We’re dealing with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools – doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers to over £4 bn in the next four years. We are building free schools in areas where there are place shortages and letting good schools expand without limits to meet demand from parents.’

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