A LEADING headteacher appointed to a national body which is advising schools on how to cut teachers' workload has proposed classes of 80 pupils.
David Carter, a director of the team overseeing the school workforce reforms, says that as many as four classes in the same year group could be merged for some parts of the curriculum.
The vast majority of pupils would be taught by a single teacher, supported by a teaching assistant, who would use audio-visual aids to deliver the lesson. Mr Carter said the plan, which he outlined to Department for Education and Skills officials in a seminar last week, would free the three other teachers to take smaller groups of four or five pupils from the same classes.
It was one of several ideas that would be sent out in a "tool kit" advising schools on how they could implement the workload agreement.
But teaching unions have already poured scorn on the idea. Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, a supporter of the workload agreement, said: "It is hard to envisage how it would work. It simply won't be a runner in hundreds of secondary schools."
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, which opposed the deal, said: "We warned about this sort of thing when the workload agreement was signed. I don't think Victorian class sizes are very 21st century and the issue is not whether you can deliver lessons but whether you can differentiate between children's needs."
The news comes as the funding crisis continues to threaten to undermine the workload agreement. Ministers are concerned that an above-inflation teachers' pay rise next year could leave schools without the money they need to implement the changes.
Mr Carter is head of Deer Park school, Cirencester, one of 32 pathfinder schools testing out workload-cutting ideas for the Government. He introduced 80-pupil groups at the start and end of some GCSE modules in his school this year. The approach suited some subjects such as English, humanities and design technology but not others such as maths, he said.
The scheme had not led to any discipline problems because of the visual style of the lessons and because disruptive pupils could be taught separately in much smaller groups.
Mr Carter, who takes up his new three-year post with the national remodelling team in September, said he appreciated that not all schools would have the resources to implement the scheme. But he thought it could work in inner-city schools with groups of around 40. Having one teacher prepare and deliver a lesson would cut down on duplication and therefore reduce teachers' workload.
Other ideas the national remodelling team could suggest to schools include more flexible hours for support staff, introducing workload reduction targets to performance management reviews and a greater role for support staff in looking after pupils' pastoral needs.
The pound;4 million pathfinder schools experiment has so far failed to cut teaching hours significantly, although it has improved staff morale, The TES has learned.
Tony Purcell of the London Leadership Centre, which managed the project, said although teachers in pathfinder schools were happier, the anecdotal evidence was that their working week had remained the same length.