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More infants 'to be taught in supersized classes'

Tens of thousands more pupils aged five-to-seven could be placed in the largest lessons to cope with a surge in demand for state school places, it was claimed.

More than 47,300 young children were taught in classes of 31 or more in 2012 – a doubling of numbers in just five years.

But it is estimated that numbers will soar further after the Government introduced new regulations that give head teachers more flexibility to increase lesson sizes for under-sevens.

Under current laws, state schools in England are banned from placing more than 30 infants in the same class amid fears that pupils fail to get enough one-to-one attention – giving them a poor start to their primary education.
Schools can breach the limit in exceptional circumstances for 12 months on the proviso that numbers are brought down the following year.

But that requirement has now disappeared from the School Admissions (Infant Class Sizes) Regulations – quietly introduced a year ago – in a move that gives heads more freedom to maintain 30-plus lessons for a number of years without having to employ more teachers.

School leaders have admitted that growing numbers of heads were preparing to take advantage of the rule change to increase class sizes.

It comes after a National Audit Office report published last month revealed that 240,000 more primary school places would be needed next year to cope with a rise in pupil numbers caused by a hike in the birth-rate and immigration.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The fact is that, unless the Government suddenly decides to build lots of new primary schools, head teachers are going to have no choice but to use these regulations in one or two years’ time because there’s not going to be enough space in existing classes.
“We need around 10,000 more classrooms in primary schools and I don’t think that’s going to happen so schools are going to have to use these powers even more.”

A number of schools claimed they had been unaware of the rule change – introduced last February – but now intended to use it to ease pressures on places.

One governor of a primary school in the Midlands said: “We’ve got infant class sizes of 32 or 33.
“We thought we were going to have to split the classes to comply with the regulations but now we’ve realised we don’t have to.

“We’re going to get very big class sizes because there’s no compulsion to do anything about it.”
The chairman of governors of another primary school said it had two classes with 32 pupils in each.
It had been planning to split the groups into three classes of around 20 in September but decided against hiring a new teacher to save cash when it become aware of the new regulations.

“We were going to interview candidates for the new job,” he said. “We were just in time to cancel those interviews and not have to appoint anyone, which has saved us a lot of money and a lot of upset.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Less than three per cent of infant classes across the country have more pupils than the limit of 30.

“Children are only permitted to join classes of 30 pupils in exceptional cases, if for instance they are in care or from military families.

"Moving these children after a year from classes where they have become settled can have a detrimental impact on their education. Classes often fall back naturally to 30 over a year or two.”

Source: Daily Telegraph

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