Teacher shortages, school places and childcare: factchecking Prime Minister's Questions

2 March 2016

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“A National Audit Office report published today confirms that one third of the families who were promised 30 hours of free childcare will now not receive it. That is a broken promise.”—Jeremy Corbyn

That’s right, although we didn’t need the NAO report to confirm it. The calculation is based on the government’s own figures.

In June the government announced plans to double the amount of free childcare available to working parents of three and four year olds to 30 hours a week. It said then that up to 600,000 families would be eligible.

Changes announced in November reduced the number of eligible families. Parents would each need to earn the equivalent of 16 hours paid at the “National Living Wage” to qualify, and less than £100,000 a year each.

The changes meant “up to 390,000 families” would be entitled under the scheme, according to the Department for Education at the time. That’s a reduction of about a third compared to the “up to 600,000” figure.

“Although the National Audit Office report said that only 58% of disadvantaged two-year-olds were accessing the free childcare offer, the latest information shows that over 70% are doing so”—David Cameron.

In January 2015, 58% of disadvantaged two year olds who were eligible for free childcare were receiving it according to official figures. These figures were cited by the NAO today.

A separate set of figures show that around 72% of eligible children could have been receiving the free childcare by August 2015. This was based on a survey which used different methods to January’s 58% figure, so they’re not strictly comparable.

The 58% figure will be updated when the next set of the official statistics is published at the end of June.

School places

“According to the Government’s own figures, half a million children in primary schools are in classes of more than 31, and 15,000 are in classes of more than 40.”—Jeremy Corbyn

12.6% of pupils in English state-funded primary schools were in classes with 31 pupils or more in 2015—about 500,000 children.

The government doesn't publish the proportion of pupils in classes of more than 40. Underlying school-level data suggests about 15,000 children were in classes averaging 40 pupils or more. 

That's based on the average number of pupils per class, so it's a slightly rougher calculation than the official proportions which are based on the actual number of pupils per class. 

"As for school places… there are actually 453 fewer schools that are full or over capacity than there were in 2010—so that is progress—and there are 36,500 fewer pupils in overcrowded schools.” —David Cameron

There were 432 fewer secondary schools that were full or over capacity in 2014 compared to 2010. This is what the Prime Minister has since said he meant to refer to. 

There’s been a rise in the number of primary schools that are at or over capacity over the same period.

There were 36,600 fewer pupils in excess of school capacity over the same period. That’s not the same as the number of pupils in overcrowded secondary schools. There were roughly 470,000 fewer pupils in overcrowded secondary schools in 2014, compared to 2010. This figure doesn’t include pupils in overcrowded academies in 2010, which we don’t have the underlying figures for.

Primary schools have seen increasing numbers of pupils each year due to a baby boom. This “bulge” in the number of pupils will hit secondary schools in the coming academic year when the number of full-time equivalent secondary school pupils is expected to rise for the first time in a decade.  

We’ve looked into concerns raised about whether secondary schools can cope with this here.

After we pointed out the discrepancy in the number of schools at or over capacity, the Prime Minister clarified that he meant the figure of 432 fewer secondary schools rather than 453 schools overall and has corrected the record. 


“Ofsted and the National Audit Office have confirmed that there is a shortage and a crisis of teachers.”—Jeremy Corbyn

Concerns about the number of teachers have been expressed by the NAO and Ofsted’s Chief Inspector.

The NAO has said that “The overall number of teachers has kept pace with changing pupil numbers, and the retention of newly qualified teachers has been stable. However, indicators suggest that teacher shortages are growing.”

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw commented last month that:

“Given the importance of the quality of teaching, it is a concern that although we have an increasingly high standard of entrants into the teaching profession, we do not have enough of them and too many are opting not to work in the most challenging areas." 

“The facts are these: our teachers are better qualified than ever, with a record 96.6% of teachers in state-funded schools now having a degree or higher qualification.”—David Cameron

This proportion of teachers had qualifications at degree level or higher in 2014. The proportion was slightly higher in 2013, at 96.7%, up from 94.3% in 2010 when comparable statistics began.  

But fewer English, maths and science teachers have relevant post A level qualifications for their subjects.

The proportion of teachers who have “qualified teacher status”—people who’ve completed an accredited teacher training programme—fell from 96.2% in 2013 to 95.5% in 2014. These are full-time equivalent figures.

We’ve got more on the use of non-specialist teachers by secondary schools here.

Joint enterprise cases

“We should be clear this judgement only referred to a narrow category of joint enterprise cases and it would be wrong to suggest everyone convicted under the wider law of joint enterprise might have grounds for appeal”—David Cameron

This is correct. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on joint enterprise murder revised the law on which some convictions were based. But the judges stressed that a “general reopening of old cases” based on the errror wouldn’t happen.  

In its ruling the court said that those convicted under the old interpretation of the law who are out of time to appeal can apply for “exceptional leave to appeal”.

But, importantly, exceptional leave will only be granted where “substantial injustice can be demonstrated”.

The judgment also only has bearing on one type of joint enterprise crime —where two people set out on a joint enterprise to commit crime A, and the second person had “foreseen the possibility” that the first person might go on to commit crime B.

More is available on this issue here.

Update 3 March 2016

We've now added more information about Labour's calculations on class sizes following a check of its methodology. 

Update 4 March 2016

We've added in that the Prime Minister has corrected his statement on school capacity. 

Update 8 March 2016

We've added in the details of the Prime Minister's figures on the number of two year olds accessing free childcare. 

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