Secondary school class sizes up to biggest in 19 years

Teachers' leaders claim the latest figures on class sizes show why schools couldn't open fully this term

Catherine Lough

Class sizes: Secondary school classes are the biggest in 19 years, new DfE figures show

Average secondary school class sizes have risen again this year, to their highest level in nearly two decades, according to new figures published by the Department for Education today.

The average class size in all secondary schools has increased from 21.7 in 2019 to 22 in 2020.

This is the biggest average class size for 19 years – the average has been lower than 22 since 2001.

Research: Smaller classes 'don't equal better results'

News: Class sizes 'bigger since 2010 in nine out of 10 areas'

Class size: Is smaller really better?

The data also shows that nearly 1 million pupils are in class sizes of 31 and above, with 993,412 pupils in classes of this size or over.

And more than 400,000 primary pupils are in classes with 36 pupils and over, along with more than 200,000 secondary students.

'Shocking' class size figures

However, the average class size in key stage 1 fell, while the average class size in KS2 remained unchanged.

The average KS1 class size fell to 26.9 in 2019-20 from 27.1 in 2018-9, which continues a downward trend seen in recent years, while the average KS2 class remained at 27.9, the same as in 2018-19.

The number and proportion of KS1 pupils in large classes has also decreased.

In 2020, 65,400 pupils were in classes of 31 or more, equating to 4 per cent of all KS1 pupils, representing a decrease of almost 9,000, from 74,300 in 2019, when 4.5 per cent of all KS1 pupils were in large classes.

The average class size in all primary schools decreased slightly from 27.1 in 2019 to 27.0 in 2020. 

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “Today’s data show the proportion of pupils in class sizes of 31-plus now stands at 13.4 per cent across primary and secondary.

"This accounts for almost 1 million children – a shocking figure. Secondary class sizes are now at their highest since 2001, and we have the highest proportion of secondary pupils taught in classes of 31-plus for 40 years. The number of children in classes of 31-plus has risen by a quarter of a million in the last decade.

“The prime minister knew this when he stated last week, and again in the Commons on Tuesday, that schools must open fully to all pupils every day from September. It is these extremely high class-size figures that explain why the government was not able to move ahead with all primary children being back this summer.

“The government may argue that bubbles of 30 pupils should be created, but even this ignores the fact that around 1 million children are in classes that exceed this figure. It is also the case that before the coronavirus, schools were experiencing teacher shortages. No amount of wishful thinking from the prime minister should ignore these facts.

“If we are to open schools fully, as everyone wants to, then the government must take the challenge seriously."

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories

Here is how to ensure effective safeguarding mechanisms

Safeguarding: 5 golden principles for leaders

The need for colleges and schools to have effective safeguarding practices has never been more apparent. This lawyer has some advice on what to look out for
Sophie Kemp 11 May 2021