Commenting on the latest school census data which shows 993,412 pupils in class sizes of 31 and above, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Today’s data show the proportion of pupils in class sizes of 31+ now stands at 13.4% across primary and secondary. This accounts for almost 1 million children, a shocking figure. Secondary class sizes are now at their highest since 2001, and we have the highest proportion of secondary pupils taught in classes of 31+ for 40 years. The number of children in classes of 31+ has risen by a quarter of a million in the last decade.
“The Prime Minister knew this when he stated last week, and again in the Commons on Tuesday, that schools must open fully to all pupils every day from September. It is these extremely high class-size figures that explain why the Government was not able to move ahead with all primary children being back this summer.
“The Government may argue that bubbles of 30 pupils should be created, but even this ignores the fact that around 1 million children are in classes that exceed this figure. It is also the case that before Coronavirus, schools were experiencing teacher shortages. No amount of wishful thinking from the Prime Minister should ignore these facts.
“If we are to open schools fully, as everyone wants to, then the Government must take the challenge seriously.
“In the short term, the Prime Minister would do well to take on board our 10-point National Education Recovery Plan which proposes incentivising former teachers to return and play their part in ensuring the education system emerges strongly from the pandemic.
“In the long term, it is imperative that the appreciation of key workers is not just the fading memory of community claps every Thursday, but a recognition that the jobs they do are tough and have value. Key workers have unquestionably played their part in this crisis and deserve more than warm words from ministers.
“The Prime Minister’s handling of schools during this crisis has been characterised by refusals to engage with the profession before making reckless promises to the public. If he wants to avoid any more embarrassing U-turns, he needs to speak constructively with those on the ground.”