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Question marks over class sizes;Digest

The Government announcement that infant classes will be limited to a maximum of 30 pupils has received a wide welcome. It is agreed that classes can be organised and managed more effectively if numbers are kept within reasonable limits. Children can be given more individual attention and lesson planning is much more manageable.

But some questions have been raised along with the praise. According to the Government, an initial pound;22million will pay for 1,500 more teachers so 100,000 fewer pupils will be educated in classes of more than 30 from September. The programme is being paid for with money saved by phasing out the assisted places scheme and a total of pound;100million will be spent on reducing class sizes. The scheme is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2002.

Initially, only the pupils in the 65 local education authorities that have bid successfully in the first funding round will benefit and the amounts they receive will not be huge. The programme will only affect pupils aged 5 to 7.

Schools minister Stephen Byers says the policy is aimed at reducing the 10 per cent of surplus school places - a total of more than 750,000 - and at the same time increasing parental choice. Guidance to be issued by the Government will make clear that extra teachers and cash will be concentrated in schools that are popular with parents so that more children can attend them. No child whose parents want them to go to a popular school will be forced to go to a failing or unsatisfactory one. Village schools will be protected by paying for extra teachers rather than forcing children to transfer to others with spare places.

But this raises the spectre of popular schools being forced to open temporary classrooms to cope with demand, while those that do not enjoy as good a reputation are left half empty or forced to close. As Pat Petch, of the National Governors Council, says: "We can see a situation where we will have to resurrect temporary classrooms."

There are also practical dilemmas facing schools with classes of 31 or 32 if they would rather spend extra money on books or equipment rather than extra staff.

Mr Byers has promised to work with local authorities, governors, teachers and parents to work out how the programme can be put into effect smoothly. But until the Government clarifies exactly how it will work, these questions will remain.

Mick Brookes, head of Sherwood junior school in Warsop, Nottinghamshire, and chair of the National Association of Head Teachers' education and management committee, says: "We welcome the fact the Government is going to put more money into education. But we're hoping it won't be done in a way that creates more problems."

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