Baby boom now affecting schools, especially in London

Between January 2012 and January 2013 primary schools across England added nearly 2,000 extra classes in order to teach some 64,000 additional pupils. By contrast, their secondary colleagues educated some 23,000 fewer pupils in January 2013 than in the previous year, and saw the number of classes on census day drop by 85 compared with the previous year to a number around 1,500 less than in the peak year of 2011.

None of these statistics contained in a new Statistical Release released by the DfE (SFFR 21/2013) are very surprising to followers of trends in pupil numbers. Secondary schools are approaching the lowest point in the current demographic cycle, and primary schools in some parts of the country are already experiencing significant growth among the younger age children entering primary schools. This pressure can be seen by the fact that the average class size in primary schools has increased from 26.2 pupils per teacher in 2009 to 26.8 in 2013. At Key Stage 1 the increase has been even more dramatic, from 26.2 in 2009 to 27.3 in 2103. The number of KS1 pupils has increased by nearly 150,000 in the period between 2009 and 2013; an increase of more than 10%, with more yet to come over the next few years.

As has been predicted, the largest KS1 average class sizes are to be found in the outer London boroughs.  Twenty of the top 26 authorities with the largest average KS1 class sizes are London boroughs, and only two – The City of London and Lewisham are what might be considered Inner London boroughs in historical terms. Interestingly, two traditional inner London boroughs, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea have the lowest average KS1 class sizes in the capital, on a par with class sizes in Sunderland and Buckinghamshire. In Harrow, the average KS1 class was 29.5 in January 2013, only 0.5 of a pupil below the legal maximum of 30 for KS1 classes, although this was exceed by the one school in the city of London where the average was shown as 30 pupils per teacher. In Sutton, where the Chief Executive last year spoke of a need to increase the legal limit, the average is a relatively unproblematic 28.7; slightly better than the average for schools across Birmingham.

Authorities in the North East took five of the lowest ten positions in 2013, although the authority with the overall lowest KS1 average class size was Cumbria, with its many small rural village schools. Here the average KS1 class was 23.9, some 5.6 pupils fewer than in Harrow.

If the success of London secondary schools achieved over the past few years is to be maintained, it will be essential to monitor the performance of the pupils in these increasingly large classes in order to avert any decline in standards at an early stage. If there is no decline in achievements, it will no doubt further add to the debate about class sizes and pupil performance.

Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor, is in the third of authorities with the lowest KS1 class sizes, so it will be interesting to see how our KS1 results fare this summer after the scrutiny they have come under during recent years.

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