Essex: Classroom overcrowding on the rise according to research
22:00 16 June 2014
The number of infants in Essex being taught in over-sized classes of more than 30 pupils has rocketed to more than 2,000 in a year, new research has revealed.
Concerns were raised last night over how under-pressure primary schools will cope with a new “baby boom” after government data laid bare the challenges they face in ensuring children are not taught in classes above the legal limit.
The figures, published by the Department for Education to provide a snap-shot of the make-up of England’s schools, found that, in January 2014, a total of 2,235 five to seven-year-olds in Essex were being taught in classes with more than 30 pupils.
That is a 33% increase from 1,682 in January 2013.
In contrast, there was a 17% fall to 437 in Suffolk, a 17% rise to 7,705 in the East of England, and a 30% jump to 93,345 in England.
The figures come amid a continuing squeeze on primary school places, fuelled in part by a rising birth rate.
A limit on infant school class sizes was introduced by Labour in the late 1990s, stating that no more than 30 youngsters should be in a class.
Under the rules, there are certain circumstances in which schools can legally waive the limit, for example if a parent wins an appeal for a place. Recent changes have also meant that classes can be made larger to take in twins, or the children of those serving in the armed forces.
In Essex, in January 2014, some 1,987 pupils were considered to be in “lawfully” large lessons, compared to 1,587 the year before.
The most common reason for a class being lawfully expanded was for pupils moving into the area outside of normal admissions for a school and for whom there was no other school place within a reasonable distance.
The second most common reason was pupils being admitted after their families won an appeal decision.
The research also found the number of children attending primary schools in Essex rose by 2,530 in a year, standing at 110,955 in January 2014.
The news comes amid plans for two new primary schools in Colchester to tackle growing pupil numbers. A 420-place primary academy is set to open in Braiswick in September 2015 with a second school the year after on the former Severalls Hospital site.
Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for education and lifelong learning, said there are “significant pressures” on primary school places following a baby boom.
But he said: “Work by the county council has ensured a constant supply of sufficient school places.
“The council has a strong record in both predicting where growth in numbers will take place and then expanding the right schools.
“In some instances, schools may have larger class sizes, (but that) is a matter for schools.
“Class sizes for children in infant classes exceed 30 only where an appeal by a parent is successful, or a child with a very particular need joins the school after the normal start in school.
“An appeal is decided by a panel independent of both the school and local authority.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), warned: “The rise in class sizes demonstrates the lack of forward planning on pupil numbers.”