It's a richer mix in class of 2007

4th May 2007 at 01:00
Official figures reveal Blair's legacy: 100 special schools closed, 100,000 more teaching assistants and class sizes still a problem.

CLASS SIZES in England are still large and more racially mixed than ever.

Several pupils per class do not speak English as a first language. And there are two teaching assistants for every five teachers.

This is the picture behind the raw statistics released by the Department for Education and Skills. The figures emerged as Tony Blair prepares to step down, leaving behind his legacy of "education, education, education".

Last year 10 academies opened, bringing the total to 27. This is the largest number to open in one year. The first was established in 2003. Now one in 20 teachers work in an academy.

But special schools continue to close as the Government pursues its policy of inclusion. Since 1997, more than 100 have shut down or been merged with other schools.

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington college and Mr Blair's biographer, said: "Blair's most distinctive contribution to education will prove to be the ending of the old-fashioned comprehensive system. Human beings are independent spirits, so the more autonomy the better. Schools are encouraging people to grow up. The irony is that schools haven't been allowed to grow up until now."

Teacher numbers have fallen, while teaching assistant figures continue to rise. Since 1997, their ranks have swelled by more than 100,000. A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers believes this is the consequence of heavy investment. "Teaching assistants provide enormous support in the classroom and around the school," she said. "But sadly the Government has allowed them to be used as substitutes for teachers, and that's not acceptable."

In the classroom, the most significant change has been the increase in the number of pupils from ethnic-minority or non-English-speaking backgrounds.

More than one-fifth of primary pupils are now from an ethnic minority. This includes more than 100,000 white, non-British pupils, many of whom came from eastern Europe following the European Union expansion of 2004. And more than 10 per cent of primary and secondary pupils now speak a first language other than English, an increase of one per cent, or 60,000 pupils, since last year.

The figures also reveal that more than one in 10 primary and secondary classes still contain more than 30 pupils. This is the case in 1.4 per cent of key stage 1 classes, even though classes of more than 30 pupils have been illegal since 1998.

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, is surprised that the number is so low. He said: "There's an impact at KS2 as well. If you can only afford so many teachers and have to keep infants'

class sizes down, you end up with bigger classes at KS2."

Meanwhile, looked-after children continue to lag behind their classmates.

Only 12 per cent achieved five GCSEs at grades A*-C in 2006, compared with 59 per cent of all children. This persistent underachievement was highlighted by The TES's "Time to Care" campaign last year. The Government has since published proposals aimed at improving their educational opportunities.

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