Schools fail to meet class size rules
MORE than 1,000 children in Wales are being taught in infant classes of more than the legal maximum of 30, according to figures obtained by the Western Mail.
A total of 47 primary schools across Wales had 31 or more pupils in their infant and reception classes, Assembly Government statistics revealed.
Under Assembly Government legislation, no infant class – pupils aged four to seven – should exceed 30 children.
The figures show that of those exceeding this number, the school with the largest class size, Ysgol Gynradd Cenarth, in Ceredigion, had 35 pupils, while another one had 34 and three had 33. Three of the schools had more than one infant class of 31 or more children.
Junior sections of primary schools also reported classes larger than the Assembly Government target of 30 or less.
More than 130 classes in primary school junior sections – seven to 11 – were larger than the non-legally binding target in the last academic year.
The figures, taken from a snapshot in September last year, are the most recent available. The Assembly Government told three of the schools to reduce the class sizes, but it is not clear whether or how this was done.
The figures show that most of the schools were allowed to have such large classes because of special exceptions.
These include whether the school is the nearest offering Welsh medium education, special needs requirements or admissions refused which have then been accepted on appeal.
Only three were deemed to be breaking the law for having such large classes, an Assembly Government spokesman said.
“To date, there has never been an example of a school which refused to take action to comply with the infant class size legislative limit,” he added.
“However, should such a situation arise in the future, we would be likely to recommend that the Minister use her legal powers of direction to instruct the school’s governing body to take whatever action was necessary to ensure compliance. Failure to comply with such a direction would be a very serious matter.
“It would not be for the Minister or Assembly Government officials to determine the appropriate way for the governing body to ensure compliance with the limit and we would have no power to remove a child from a class.”
Teaching unions and the Welsh Liberal Democrats said they were shocked by the figures. They said research showed larger classes did affect learning and that the WAG had done too little, too slowly to cut class sizes.
NUT Cymru said there should be no exceptions.
“Having 30 pupils in infant classes is an achievable target and the WAG has had eight years to achieve this. There should be no exceptions to the rule,” said union spokesman Rhys Williams.
“It should not be beyond the capabilities of the WAG or local education authorities to meet this target.
“We are very, very disappointed that there are as many classes as this with over 30 pupils.
“If we get things right early on in education then it is easier later on.
“Infant classes of 30 should be seen as the maximum, not the desirable. It could be desirable to have classes of 20 or less.”
The Lib-Dems in Wales have been campaigning for infant class sizes of no more than 25.
The party’s education spokesperson Kirsty Williams said, “In an era where we are constantly told that the number of children is falling, I’m amazed that there are still so many classes with more than 30 pupils.
“Smaller class sizes make life easier for teachers, and leads to better teaching for pupils. This is particularly important at the primary level where children discover how to learn and put in place the building blocks for future learning.
“In partnership government from 2001 to 2003, Welsh Liberal Democrats invested to reduce class sizes – giving each pupil more teacher time. Unfortunately, in government alone, Labour dropped the promise to continue that work.
“The new Labour/Plaid government has failed to make it a priority.”
A spokesman for the Assembly Government said, “Four infant classes were identified in the September (2006) class size count as being in breach of the legislative infant class size limit.
“Following further investigation by Assembly Government officials, one of these classes was actually found to contain a child who was a permissible exception to the limit, but unfortunately this was too late for it to be included in the published information.
“In the case of the other three classes, the schools in question were required to take the necessary action to ensure compliance with the limit by the start of the new school term in January 2007.
“We have made significant progress in reducing primary class sizes in Wales.
“A statutory infant class limit of 30 pupils per class was successfully implemented in September 2001 and the Welsh Assembly Government has pursued a ‘made in Wales’ target of reducing junior classes to the same level.”
He said the Foundation Phase, being rolled out next September, would increase adult/pupil ratios with more teaching assistants. Research showed the youngest pupils benefit most from smaller classes, he added.