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Class-size boom looms

GOVERNMENT plans to focus on standards in the early years of secondary school risk being derailed by rising class sizes.

The latest figures, for January 2000, showed 22,000 more secondary pupils of all ages in classes of 31-35 pupils than at the same point in 1999, rising for the second year running.

The increase means that 11.3 per cent of all secondary pupils were in classes of 31-35 pupils in England. Seven per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds are taught in such classes, nearly double the 3.8 per cent of ten years ago.

Significantly, the proportion of secondary pupils in classes of 31 or more is now higher than for key stage 1 classes, cut to 11 per cent due to the Government's vow to reduce infant class sizes.

At key stage 3, recently declared a priority area by Education Secretary David Blunkett, 14 per cent of under 14s are in classes of 31 or more.

As in the case of prmary classes at KS1 and KS2 (Hot Data, TES May 26 and June 2), class sizes are not uniform across England. Perhaps not surprisingly, Inner London again stands out with the smallest number of LEAs with large classes. But the North West and South West, as at KS2, have large number of LEAs with an above-average number of large classes. Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset all have above-average numbers of pupils in large classes at secondary and KS2 levels. But few LEAs with grammar schools are in this category.

Recent improvements in funding, including the Budget handout, mean secondary class sizes should now start falling. However, the disparity in average class sizes does raise the question as to whether all schools should be funded to allow greater equity in class sizes across the country.

The author is a director of Education Data Surveys. email is john.howson@lineone.net

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