INFANTS in Bradford are being crammed into ‘supersized’ classes because of a growing shortage of places, worrying figures show.
The number of five to seven-year-olds in classes of more than 30 – the legal limit, except in exceptional circumstances - has almost doubled in four years.
In January, the total stood at 3,819, up from 1,996 when the Coalition came to power – an increase of 1,823, or 91 per cent, according to figures uncovered by Labour.
There has been a similar leap in Calderdale (up 86 per cent) and even more dramatic rises in Leeds (313 per cent) and – in particular – Kirklees (2,616 per cent).
Now Bradford City Council’s education chief, Councillor Ralph Berry, has acknowledged some parents are beginning to protest at the squeeze on places.
He warned: “We are simply not being given the resources we need to expand the primary school estate as we need to.
“We are 200-300 over the official number, which means schools are under great pressure to find places and a number are being pushed over the limit.”
Labour claimed the figures showed limited money was being diverted from state primary schools to fund Education Secretary Michael Gove's controversial ‘free school’ programme.
To David Cameron’s embarrassment, the future prime minister promised “small schools with smaller class sizes” before the last election, it pointed out.
But the Department for Education (DfE) blamed increases in pupil numbers dating back a decade and said local authorities had been given £5bn to spend on new school places.
A limit on infant school class sizes was introduced by Labour in the late 1990s, after it made a ceiling of 30 pupils a key election issue.
It states that no more than 30 should be taught by one teacher, but schools can legally waive the limit if, for example, a parent wins an appeal for a place.
More recently, Mr Gove has relaxed the regulations further, allowing schools to breach the limit for 12 months in some cases, provided numbers are brought down the following year.
Some experts argue larger classes make it harder for infants to learn, particularly those that need extra help or find it harder to pay attention.
Cllr Berry said parents at some schools were protesting at infant classes of 34 or 35 pupils – mentioning Wycliffe Primary, in Shipley – but added: “I get even more complaints when they can’t get their kids in.
“The promise of classes of 30 is being severely undermined, but we have had magnificent co-operation from head teachers and governors, because we can’t force them to take more children.”
A DfE spokesman said: “We are giving local authorities £5bn to spend on new school place over this parliament - double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period.”