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2,000 more children in East Anglia are in classes with more than 30 pupils

PUBLISHED: 11:21 14 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:23 14 January 2016

Sparhawk Infant School reception, Sapphire Class. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Sparhawk Infant School reception, Sapphire Class. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

More than 2,000 extra infants in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are being taught in classes with more than 30 children, compared to 2010.

An EDP analysis showed a 70pc rise in the number of infant classes in Norfolk with 31 or more children since 2010, while the number trebled in Suffolk and more than quadrupled in Cambridgeshire.

Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, said he had “massive concerns” about the issue.

He said: “It dilutes the impact a teacher can have in the school. Marking 32 books compared to 24 leaves teachers quite diminished and tired.”

He added he knew of some schools where the number of children could not physically fit into the classroom.

Class sizes: what does the evidence say?

Does class size matter? Politically, at least, it can.

In 1997, the first promise on Tony Blair’s famous pledge card was to “cut class sizes to 30 or under for five, six and seven-year-olds”. It was so totemic that Ed Miliband resurrected it last year.

But the academic evidence is not clear cut.

Andreas Schleicher, of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, listed “smaller class sizes raise standards” as one of his seven big myths about top-performing school systems.

Writing about the countries that perform best, he said: “Wherever they have to make a choice between a smaller class and a better teacher, they go for the latter.”

Last year the Education Endowment Foundation described reducing class size as “low impact for very high cost, based on moderate evidence”.

It said class size reductions did not appear to have a particularly large effect until pupil numbers were below 20 - allowing teachers to change their approach to teaching.

In November, the Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy in Sweden found when classes grow, higher-income parents help children with homework more, while low-income parents do not, and “only low-income children find their teachers harder to follow when taught in a larger class”.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said “the vast majority of the classes with more than 30 pupils would have 31 pupils, and in some rare cases, 32”.

Local councils named a number of factors, including population growth, changes to the law ensuring vulnerable children can go to a local school, and more siblings being admitted to the same school.

Labour shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said class size was the biggest issue being raised by parents, and added: “The reason the Labour Party introduced the cap on class sizes of 30 was because that was at the high end of the spectrum in terms of what was good for children, and what parents demanded. As a parent myself, I even think that just one or two extra children in the class can have quite an impact in terms of the attention a child can receive.”

However, she admitted evidence about the impact of class sizes was not clear cut.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The average infant class size has remained stable at 27.4 and the number of unlawfully large infant classes has fallen – down 137 compared to 2009 – all despite a small increase in pupil numbers since last year.”

He added the government had created almost 500,000 new places between 2011 and 2015, and said it had committed to invest a further £7bn in new schools places over the next six years.

Headteacher supports smaller class sizes

Priscilla Crane, headteacher of Sparhawk Infant School in Sprowston, describes herself as an advocate for small classes, but says the quality of teaching is paramount.

The school, whose “good” Ofsted rating was confirmed last week, has class sizes ranging from 25 to 30.

At her previous school, Mrs Crane taught a class of 22 and then a class of 34. She said having fewer books to mark at night means teachers can give better feedback, and it is easier for teachers to check on every child during lessons.

However, she added: “Good-quality teachers delivering good-quality lessons is the key. You can have small class sizes, but if you have teachers who are complacent you can’t get the results.”

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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