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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 15:18 GMT


Blunkett cuts infant classes down to size

More than 100,000 infant school pupils will be taught in smaller classes from September, the Education Secretary David Blunkett has announced.

The children will be the first to benefit from the government's decision to abolish the Assisted Places Scheme, which subsidised children from less well-off families to attend independent schools. The £22m raised will be used to reduce class sizes.

[ image: David Blunkett:
David Blunkett: "wider world of learning for all children"
The government has pledged that by 2001, no five, six or seven-year-olds will be taught in a class of more than 30 children.

Mr Blunkett says 65 local education authorities bid successfully for a share of the £22m. More cash will become available as the Assisted Places Scheme is phased out, increasing to £100m in 2001.

As the minister announced details of the class-size initiative schemes which will benefit 124,800 children, the Prime Minister Tony Blair visited a school in Canning Town, east London, which will benefit.

Mr Blunkett said: "Reducing class sizes is essential if all children are to have the teaching support they need in their crucial early years, when they master the basics of literacy and numeracy.

"There are around half a million pupils in large classes. This new money will mean that by September almost a quarter of them - more than 100,000 - will benefit."

Extra teachers

[ image: Tony Blair and his wife Cherie visit a school in east London]
Tony Blair and his wife Cherie visit a school in east London
The extra cash provides the first strand of the government's initiative on class sizes - more teachers. Some schools will require extra buildings to accommodate the classes they will teach.

Senior government sources promise that extra cash will be made available to provide it, as part of the £250m New Deal fund for schools to be allocated in the spring.

But even with extra teachers and classrooms, parental demand for places at a popular school could push class sizes back over 30.

That is why legislation currently before Parliament would limit parental rights of appeal, where a successful appeal would breach class size limits.

Numbers game

[ image: More teachers will be provided and extra buildings provided]
More teachers will be provided and extra buildings provided
Mr Blunkett insisted the investment is intended to ensure that children are not turned away from popular or isolated schools.

"If it occurs, local authorities and schools will come forward with proposals for resolving that problem," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If we wanted to simply shuffle children around the system and prevent classes rising over 30, we wouldn't have to allocate the £100m by 2001."

But the Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Dorrell told the same programme the news was a "drop in the ocean" which would be outweighed by financial pressures facing local education authorities.

[ image: Promise to cut class sizes below 30 by 2001]
Promise to cut class sizes below 30 by 2001
"Smaller classes are better than bigger sizes. But in the real world the response to this will be underwhelming in schools around Britain," he said.

"Because they know ... there are real pressures. Many schools are facing cash cuts in their budget next year.

"They have to deal not just with the issue of class sizes, they have to deal with paying teachers' salaries, the problems of buildings, the problems of books.

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