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Return to the Twenties;Hot data;Briefing

The Government believes class sizes are vitally important at key stage 1. However, parents and teachers in some local authorities with grammar schools may question why the KS1 class sizes in their local primaries are still so large. Four of the five authorities with average KS1 class sizes of more than 29 five-year-olds have at least one grammar school.

It is not clear to what extent, if any, these large classes affect pupils' chances when it comes to competing for secondary school places. Nevertheless, since the "Greenwich Judgment" legalised open enrolment, parents are likely to be concerned about the current inequality of opportunity.

Happily, most families in England are enjoying the first reduction in average class sizes at KS1 in several years. The provisional class-size figure in January 1999 for infant classes, taught by one teacher, was 26.5 pupils. This is the lowest figure since 1996.

It has largely been achieved by the Government's policy of funding the abolition of classes over 30. However, if as in the past, only pupils present on the day were counted, and not the number on roll, the Government will need to show that the figures weren't affected by undue numbers of sick pupils this January.

Of course average class size isn't everything; providing adequate resources for pupils is also vital. Under local management the decision about whether to spend money on staff or resources is one for each school.

The authority total is the aggregate of these school's decisions, not as in the past, the result of any central policy. This means that there are also variations in KS1 class sizes around the country, and between different types of authority.

There has to be some concern that while the money is going into reducing infant class sizes, the average nursery class taught by one teacher is once again larger than the average primary class, taught by one teacher.

Overall the Government can take the credit for ending a long period of burgeoning class sizes at the first key stage. However, the fact remains that two authorities still have average class sizes of more than 30.

The policy of reducing class sizes won't by itself provide a level playing field. There is a long way to go before all children have the same opportunities, even within the state system.

John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs an educational research company. E-mail: int.edu@lineone.net

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