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Secondary class sizes rise

Unions warn that under-funding is causing class sizes to rise in secondary schools

Published on 8th March 2018

Class sizes are rising in secondary schools due to chronic underfunding, unions have warned.

Research by the School Cuts coalition of unions, which comprises NEU, NAHT, ASCL, UNISON, GMB and Unite, found 62% of secondary schools in England have increased the size of their classes in the last two years (2014/15 to 2016/17).

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have repeatedly warned that schools have had to increase class sizes because of funding pressures and here is yet more evidence that this is the case. It is the last thing they want to do but they have no other choice because they have to reduce staffing numbers and that inevitably affects the teacher-to-pupil ratio. Larger classes mean less individual support for students, and put more pressure on teachers at a time when we desperately need to reduce workload.”

There is a particular problem in secondary schools because of a shortfall of £500m a year to funding for 11 – 16 year olds, between 2015/16 and 2019/20.

In some authorities this has had a dramatic effect. In York, secondary schools have an average of three more students in every class. The five areas with the largest secondary school classes have all seen an increase in the last two years – Barnsley, Rutland, Thurrock, Newham and Leicester. This shows the government is failing in its stated aim to even out the differences in education, the unions warn.

Jon Richards, UNISON head of education, said: “It’s a sorry situation when rising class sizes are happening in sync with cuts to school support staff. Fewer support staff means more work for already hard-pressed teachers. Over the past five years, secondary schools have seen a 10% cut in school technicians and an 8% cut in teaching assistants.  This is a double whammy for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils, who can face greater challenges in larger classes and for whom support staff are a lifeline.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, added: “Time and again we are hearing about the consequences of the Government’s inadequate funding of our schools and 6th form colleges. Larger class sizes means less individual attention for children. Our children and young people deserve an education that is properly funded and resourced. For many it is their only chance of an education and it cannot be ruined by Ministers who believe starving schools of cash is either acceptable or workable.”  

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