Over half a million primary school pupils taught in ‘super-size’ classes

The Guardian is reporting a new analysis from Labour that suggest more than half a million children are being taught in “super-size” classes of over 30 pupils as primary schools struggle to cope with the surge in demand for places.

…The shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, said the system for planning new school places was broken and blamed the government’s focus on free schools for making it harder to ensure there were enough places in areas of high demand…

Department for Education (DfE) statistics revealed that almost 40,000 primary pupils are currently being taught in classes of over 36, while 15,000 are in classes of 40 or more. In England, 520,445 primary pupils are being taught in classes of 31 or more. Of those, up to 100,000 are in reception, year one or year two, for which the government has a legal requirement to limit class sizes to 30. 

And while the focus has long been on primaries, the population surge is now starting to feed through to secondary schools, where Labour says bigger classes are already a growing problem.

The Conservatives have accused the last Labour government of cutting funding for school places by £150m and scrapping 200,000 places at the time pupil numbers were booming. “Rather than trying to scare parents with misleading statistics they should be backing the measures we’ve taken to clear up the mess they left behind,” a Conservative spokesman said.

Under current legislation, local authorities do not have the power to build and open new schools – only free schools or academies are allowed to open new institutions. “The government’s obsession with free schools, at the expense of opening other types of school, has made it harder and harder to ensure there are enough places everywhere,” said Powell…

Powell continued: “The current system for planning new places is essentially broken. It is now time for the Tories to abandon their unjustified fixation with free schools, which are evidently not addressing the growing pressure on school places nor driving up standards, and once and for all put the urgent need for sufficient good school places in every local area first…”

More at: Over half a million primary school pupils taught in ‘super-size’ classes


I’m not sure there is anything particularly new here and we resort to the same argument – Labour blames it on free schools, the Conservatives say Labour created the mess in the first place and they are acting to sort it out.

Realistically, where is this going to go? Will the government pull back from requirement that all new schools are free schools, will local authorities get more involved in facilitating new free schools in area of demand, or will we have to get used to more and more ‘super-sized’ classes?

Please give us your assessment in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Free Schools, Local authorities, Policy and Primary.


  1. The National Audit Office (2013) said local authorities didn’t begin to forecast a rise in pupil numbers until 2008. Before then the challenge had been to remove surplus school places. However, there were local pockets of growth in the school population. Labour addressed these hotspots by  providing capital funding “totalling £400 million a year from 2007-8 to 2010-11 to help cover local growth in need for places”.

    The Tory claim that Labour’s to blame for shortages diverts responsibility from the last and present Government’s policies particularly allowing free schools to be set up where there were surplus places and making it impossible for LAs to require academies to expand.
    More information and link to NAO report here: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/07/is-labour-to-blame-for-the-lack-of-school-places

  2. DfE  stats say: ‘The number of infant pupils in classes of more than 30 pupils is now
    100,800.’  This upholds Labour’s analysis of Key Stage 1.
    But Labour is exaggerating the number of pupils in KS2 classes of 31 or more. Accompanying tables (Table 6) say 14.3% of KS2 classes are 31-35, 0.4% are 36+.  There were 1,973,515 KS2 pupils.  I make 14.7% of 2m (rounded up) pupils to be 294,000.
    Add in the 100,800 KS1 pupils – there are 394,800 primary pupils in classes of 31 or more.  That’s more than 100,000 less than Labour’s 520,444.
    That said, Powell is right to say the current system of planning school place supply is broken.  But it doesn’t help to use inflated figures.
    Stats and tables downloadable here  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2015

  3. AynieLR

    SchoolsImprove LucyMPowell it’s also anti LA obsession, ignoring of demographic data, carelessness about class size that has led to this.

  4. TW

    “Labour blames it on free schools, the Conservatives say Labour created the mess in the first place”

    Both correct.

    “Conservatives say …they are acting to sort it out!”

    A lie.

  5. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Oops! Not ideal for educationgovuk this headline; expect endless denials from NickGibbMP and/or NickyMorgan01 #boring

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