Is the number of unlawfully large infant classes falling?

12 June 2015
What was claimed

The number of unlawfully large infant classes has fallen.

Our verdict

This is accurate, but taking into account large infant classes counted as lawful (because of the circumstances in which extra pupils were admitted) the number that are large is growing.

"The average infant class size has remained stable at 27.4 and the number of unlawfully large infant classes has fallen—down 137 compared to 2009—all despite a small increase in pupil numbers since last year." Department for Education spokesman quoted on BBC News online, 11 June 2015

As new figures were published on Thursday showing primary school pupil numbers continuing to increase, debate turned to the impact that the growing numbers are having on class sizes.

Infant class sizes in England have to keep to a limit of 30 pupils or less. There are certain lawful circumstances in which they can go above this level, for example, for children moving into an area outside of the normal admissions round. If a class has 35 pupils and five or more pupils are admitted as lawful exceptions, the class counts as being 'lawfully' large, if fewer than five have been admitted as lawful exceptions the class is deemed 'unlawfully' large.

This claim focuses on the number of unlawfully large infant classes, which has fallen by half comparing 2009 to 2015, but has fluctuated quite a lot within those years. However, this obscures the other half of the picture which is that the number of lawfully large classes has increased four-fold over the same time period.

Overall, the number of infants (5-7 year olds) in large classes in state-funded schools has increased three and a half times, from nearly 28,900 in 2009 to 100,800 in 2015.

The quality of the figures on unlawfully large classes have also been called into question recently as some local authorities reported their data may contain some inaccuracies—namely that some children who should've been counted as a lawful exception had not been. As a result, the Department for Education recommended to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) that these particular statistics should be removed from the main statistical release and that the UKSA should re-assess their quality, which it is now doing.

Image credits: Bart Everson

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