In 1997, the in-coming Labour government inherited a legacy of rising class sizes, crumbling schools and poor attainment. Massive investment in new and modernised schools, more teachers and qualified teaching assistants, a phenomenal increase in books and equipment, and a determination to raise both expectations and standards saw a dramatic and continuing improvement in educational outcomes. I’m pleased to pay tribute to the role of my good friend and colleague, David Blunkett, in driving those changes.
In their 2010 manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to create "small schools with smaller class sizes". In the Yorkshire Post, David Cameron told us “the more we can get class sizes down the better”.
But in 2012, David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s government relaxed the rules on infant class sizes. Now, the number of infants taught in large classes of over-30 has spiralled by 200 per cent since 2010 – to over 93,000 children. Astonishingly, there are more than 40,000 children now being taught in classes of more than 36 pupils.
Since 2010, there have been big increases in the numbers of local children being taught in lasses of more than 30 children. I know about the increases in my own area, where Sheffield has seen a 147% increase. Parents and teachers are continually raising the issue with me, because not only have class sizes gone up, but an increasing number of parents are unable to get a place in their local primary school.
But, Sheffield’s problem is small compared to Barnsley, up 553%; Doncaster, up 355%; Rotherham, up 688%. And both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have also seen big increases.
At this rate, in 5 years’ time, one in four infants – that’s 450,000 children - will be being taught in large classes of over 30 pupils.
The government has been quite reckless and irresponsible about its investment in new school places. David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s Free School programme has diverted funding away from areas of need.
According to the independent National Audit Office report published in December, two thirds of all of the places created by the programme have been created outside of areas classified as having high or severe primary school need.
It’s a new form of class war!