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Wednesday, 18 June 2014 00:00

Oversized Infant Classes in Kent and Medway.

There has been much media interest this week on the issue of Infant Class numbers. The Labour Party has claimed that a relaxation of legislation by the Coalition has led primary school headteachers to allow infant Class numbers to increase over the statutory maximum of 30 children per class with a single teacher. This is based on an article in the Daily Telegraph.  However, in my opinion, far more important is the ambition of both Coalition and Labour parties to reduce Infant class sizes below 30 also discussed in the document, although the resources required to build new classrooms, open new schools and employ additional teachers would be immense and are nowhere on the horizon. In any case, unless something is done to expand infant class provision then the limit of 30 children per class will become impossible to maintain. 

In fact, my analysis of the data can find no incidence of headteachers in Kent or Medway choosing to ignore the regulations and, although there are a number of infant classes with numbers over 30, almost all are due to perfectly legitimate actions outside the control of headteachers.

The facts are as follows, according to my reading of the Autumn 2013 census organised by KCC and Medway Councils which counts Infant Class numbers in each primary and infant school and academy separately. The table shows the number of children taking classes sizes over 30 for each Year Group. 

Number of children in Kent and Medway responsible
for oversized Infant Classes October 2013
Kent Total
Medway Total
Year R
12 16955 5 3327
Year 1 34 17028 4 3345
Year 2 37 16673 9 3246

 For example, in Kent there are at most 12 classes out of some 588 which are oversized, created by fewer than 3 in every 1000 children. The logical argument is made that for each extra child in an oversized class, all are affected, magnifying the issue 30 fold, but the bottom line is that these figures will be almost totally explicable by the legal exceptions outlined below and out of the school's control.   

I have had to make a number of assumptions in producing these figures, especially in Kent where there are a number of mixed age classes, but they are fairly close to those produced in the document (this identifies 19 children in Medway, as against my 18!)

Given that legislation requires Infant class sizes to be kept to 30 except in very specific circumstances, how can these exceptions occur? The document argues that this is because of a relaxation in the rules, made by removing the sanction on schools if they go over the limit, so that headteachers are now allowing class sizes to increase for unspecified reasons of their own. I can see no evidence whatever in Kent or Medway that this is the case.

There are five main legitimate reasons why an Infant Class can go oversize.

  1. A decision to offer a place by an Independent Appeal Panel to admit a child to a particular school cannot be overruled (unless there is fraud involved). Appeal Panels are also given tough rules to try and force them to keep class sizes down to 30, but occasionally they will consider the facts of a case so overwhelming they will uphold an appeal. In Kent last year, just 18 out of 546 Reception Appeals were upheld where Infant Class Legislation occurred. In Medway, the figure was 6 out of 157. Further details here.  Some of these appeals have been won because of a technical error in allocating places, often interpretation of oversubscription criteria for church schools. The successful appeal numbers almost entirely explain the Reception Year over limit numbers in the table above, although there will have been some slippage with children not taking up places offered. I am aware of a couple of the successful cases and can quite understand how the panels reached their decisions, even though I think they went outside the laid down rules.
  1. The change in legislation indicated by the document also forced schools to admit both twins in the case where one of them took up the final place in a school allocation,  and the other was previously excluded. I well remember a case I was asked to comment on on national television a few years ago, when triplets were allocated to three different schools by this ruling. I am aware of three cases where a second twin took numbers to 31 this year.
  1. There are occasions when schools (usually) or the Local Education Authority makes an error in allocating places in the first place. I am personally aware of about 10 additional places that had to be offered in Kent over the three years looked at above.
  1. There is an exception which parents often seek to exploit that states an exception can be made where there is no other available school within reasonable distance. This is rarely invoked as parents are often trying to avoid a failing school (it is available!) or the word “reasonable” is stretched to fit the circumstances.
  1. There are several other rarely invoked exceptions that you can find here.

In other words, I do not accept the argument put forward that what is indeed an increase in numbers of oversized classes in Kent and Medway since 2010 is down to a relaxation in the legislation when the new 2012 Admissions Code was produced.

Rather it is the product of a much more fundamental issue, that of the increasing pressures on school places across the area as outlined in my articles for Kent and  Medway elsewhere on this website. Until and unless these are eased, pressure on maintaining Infant Class Legislation will continue to increase and there will be many more examples of it being breached. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 12:15

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