Tuesday, September 29, 1998 Published at 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Infant class sizes plummet
The government has provided £62m to schools with large classes
The number of five to seven-year-old children being taught in classes of more than 30 has fallen by 140,000.
Figures for England released by the Department for Education and Employment show that 345,000 pupils in this age group are being taught in classes of 31 or more, compared with 485,000 last January.
A key government education policy is that no five, six or seven-year-old should be in a class of more than 30 by the end of the current Parliament.
This year, ministers have provided primary schools with a total of £62m to take on extra teachers and build new classrooms. A further £560m will be available over the next three years to cut class sizes.
"These figures show we are making substantial progress towards meeting our pledge to reduce the number of pupils in large infant classes," he said.
"Parents will welcome these improvements which will mean smaller classes, more teachers, more classrooms and the safeguarding of parental choice."
Mr Blunkett has angered teachers' unions by calling critics of the government's education plans "a miserable bunch of sneering cynics" during a fringe meeting of the Labour Party conference.
The new class size figures are based on information received from 88% of primary schools in England during September 1998. A full picture of infant class sizes will be published in the January school census.
Meanwhile, the debate on the relationship between class sizes and the quality of learning continues.
A major report on the subject, based on an analysis of 200,000 lessons and published by the Office for Standards in Education, found there was no clear link between the size of a class and the quality of teaching and learning within it.
But it said small classes do appear to benefit children in the early years of primary education, pupils with special educational needs and those of lower attainment in secondary schools.
Tories not convinced
The Shadow Education Secretary, David Willetts, called on the government to publish information on class sizes for older primary children and the number of parental appeals over admission.
"We have always said that if you pursue the objective of reducing infant classes, you can certainly deliver on it. But at what price?
"How many parents will not be able to get their children into the school of their first choice, because that would push class sizes above 30?
"The government must be equally prompt in publishing figures about unsuccessful parental appeals on admission.
"And what is the impact on classes for older children. How many children will move into much bigger classes when they leave infant school?"