Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Smaller class sizes for infants
The number of pupils in classes over 30 has fallen by 173,000
Class sizes for infants are continuing to fall, according to figures published by the Department for Education.
The government says this confirms the success of its policy of recruiting more teachers and building more classrooms in popular schools - but critics say that it has been achieved at the expense of secondary schools, where class sizes are rising.
According to figures published on Wednesday, there are now 180,000 pupils in classes with more than 30 pupils - compared with 365,000 last year and 485,000 the year before.
But the Conservative education spokeswoman, Theresa May, has accused the government of using statistics selectively, pointing to the increase in average class size for primary schoolchildren aged eight to eleven and in secondary schools.
"Tony Blair stood before the country and said class sizes will be lower. But as they prepare to boast about how they have supposedly fallen, they have in fact gone up," said Ms May.
The figures for eight to eleven year olds show that while the proportion of children taught in over-size classes has fallen - from 40% to 39% - the average class size has risen from 28.3 to 28.4.
"The cost of government success on this one policy is an increase in the average class size for older children, more older children in classes over 30, a worsening of the pupil-teacher ratio," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association.
But the government has defended its achievement in cutting class sizes for the youngest pupils, saying that it is not a manipulation of figures but a result of investment.
The Schools Minister Estelle Morris said that an extra £620m is being spent on a three-year programme which will recruit 6,000 extra teachers and build 4,200 classrooms.
The building and recruitment drives have allowed 15,000 extra pupil places to be created in popular, over-subscribed schools - with 3,000 places lost in unpopular schools where demand is low.
Ministers say this disproves claims that the curb on class sizes has also meant a curb on parental choice - and that their focus has always been on expanding popular schools.
That downward trend has prompted speculation that the government might feel able to set a new target, for getting the class sizes for those eight to 11 year olds to 30 or below - which would give Labour a useful boast to take into a possible early general election next year.