Class size cap: it already exists, say Conservatives

A Labour party pledge to cap class sizes in infant years has “collapsed” – because it is already in force.

Yesterday, party leader Ed Miliband announced he would “introduce” a 30-pupil cap which had been “scrapped” by the coalition government.

But a Conservative spokesperson said: “Ed Miliband’s education policy has now collapsed – primary school class sizes are already capped at 30.”

They added: “This incompetence and chaos shows exactly why Ed Miliband is simply not up to the job.”

A review of the law in 2012 allowed for class sizes to be larger than 30 to account for certain children, but maintained classes otherwise still had to have a maximum of 30 pupils.

There are eight circumstances for when a child can be admitted into an already-full class. They include children of armed forces personnel, those with statements of special educational needs, when errors were made in the admissions process for a particular child, for twins, and for those children whose families have moved mid-year.

But shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt exclusively told Schools Week Labour would maintain these exceptions.

He said: “What we’re having is a 12 month window on that… so there is some latitude there but if we prioritise spending in areas of need rather than a free school programme putting it in areas where it is not needed, we will be able to provide the right number of places.

“We want all infants of five, six and seven in classes of 30 or under. The government deregulated the school admissions code, and we have got to have an effective admissions code to deliver that.”

Dr Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab, who has studied school admissions policies, said pupils in infant classes were the most likely to move schools, with data showing 8.4 per cent of Year 1 children changed schools.

Rob Coe, Professor at Durham University’s School of Education, who has analysed research into reducing class size, said: “A cap at 30 is a very small change anyway, since there are not many infant classes much above this. If the practical effect is a reduction of one or two pupils in a few classes, the overall effect on attainment will be undetectable.

“Another is we need to add, ‘other things being equal’. For example, a systematic decrease in class size would require more teachers; any benefits from smaller classes could easily be outweighed by even a small reduction in the overall quality
of teaching.”

He said money would be better spent if it were spent on such things as teachers’ professional development and added reduced class size was a “socially progressive policy” in that it should help narrow the gap between rich and poor children.

Prof Coe’s colleague Steve Higgins said reducing class sizes to 15-17 pupils would have more impact and a better investment could be employing an extra teacher per school to undertake intensive small group teaching.