Teachers urge action on class sizes as three-quarters say numbers have gone up

·4-min read

Teachers have voted for the Government to set maximum limits on class sizes, as most say the issue is having a negative impact on their pupils’ progress.

A survey by the NASUWT teaching union, ahead of its annual conference in Birmingham, found that three-quarters of teachers said their class sizes were increasing, with most teachers reporting that this was having a negative impact on pupils’ progress and behaviour.

In a survey of more than 3,000 teachers, 37% said their class sizes had increased “significantly” over the past five years and 75% said their class size had gone up over the same period.

Nine in 10 (91%) said their class size was having a negative impact on pupils’ progress and attainment, while 90% said they felt this had a negative effect on pupils’ behaviour.

More than two-thirds (67%) said they thought increased class sizes came from higher numbers of pupils on school rolls, while 40% said they thought cuts to staff numbers had caused the issue, and a further 40% said budget cuts were the root of the problem.

Half of respondents (50%) said their class size had had a significant negative impact on their workload.

In total, 95% reported that class sizes were having a negative impact on how well they could meet the needs of all pupils and 78% said they felt class sizes were negatively impacting the provision of suitable learning materials for pupils.

Just 21% said the size of their classroom was always adequate for the subjects they teach and more than two-thirds (67%) said they thought the size of their classroom had had an impact on increasing transmission of Covid-19 among their pupils.

Member Fergal McGuckin said it was not only class size that was an issue, but the increasing size of pupils themselves.

“I teach politics and history and GCSE and A-level and in recent years our class sizes have increased exponentially,” he said.

“I’d like to think it’s down to my inspirational teaching and dynamic personality, I mean I’m just a victim of my own success etcetera, but I fear it’s got more to do with money,” he added.

“It’s about budget cuts and it’s about getting bums on seats, particularly at A-level. GCSE and A-level classes now routinely exceed 25-plus pupils.”

Mr McGuckin added that “the size of pupils is increasing” and that he felt like “I’ve just entered the land of the giants when I walk into some of my A-level classes”.

“As someone who’s a standard 5ft 8in, I really do feel vertically challenged in those environments,” he added.

Member Elaine Paling said that in the 1970s the average teenage boy was much shorter and slighter than today.

“Now they are crammed into chairs and desks which are absolutely not suitable for them… and where do they put their feet? In the aisle,” she added.

In 2021, Labour Party analysis found that the number of secondary pupils in classes of at least 31 had increased from one in 10 in 2010 to almost one in seven pupils.

The analysis suggested that the number of primary school pupils in classes of 31 or more had increased from one in nine in 2010 to one in eight pupils.

The analysis, based on figures from the House of Commons library, found that the number of secondary pupils in class sizes of 31 or more increased by more than 130,000 between 2016 and 2020, a rise of 43%.

In 2019, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said this was “the inevitable result of several Government policies which have conspired to put a squeeze on schools”.

Patrick Roach (Simon Boothe/Nasuwt/PA)
Patrick Roach (Simon Boothe/NASUWT/PA)

Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Increases in class size numbers are having a detrimental impact on both the learning experiences of pupils and the health and safety of teachers and students.

“Large class sizes are also contributing to increased teacher workloads, reducing teachers’ ability to provide pupils with the individual support they need.

“The damaging impact of increased pupil numbers in classes has been further exposed during the pandemic, creating the perfect conditions for the transmission of Covid-19.

“This situation once again exposes the failure of government oversight over the last decade in relation to pupil place planning or in guaranteeing the additional investment needed to increase teacher numbers.

“Children and their teachers deserve better.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Schools and education staff have gone above and beyond over the course of the pandemic to make sure every child receives the education they deserve.

“At primary, average class sizes decreased in 2020/21 compared with 2019/20, the majority of primary schools have 27 pupils or less per class.

“At secondary school, class sizes remain low with an average of 22 pupils per class in 2020/21, despite an increase of almost 800,000 pupils in the system since 2010.

“We have also created over one million additional school places between May 2010 and May 2021, the largest increase in school capacity for at least two generations.”

The NASUWT conference voted on Sunday for the union to publish guidance to members on class size and to lobby Government to introduce maximum class sizes at all key stages.

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