One in three teachers see “reducing class size” as the top priority for the next Government

The National Education Union today (14 November) releases an analysis of class sizes in England between 2010-19. According to the Government’s own data:

  • 474 out of 533 England constituencies have seen an increase in average class size since 2010.
  • Average class size has fallen, often only slightly, in just 59 constituencies over the same period.
  • Almost a million pupils – 961,127 – are in classes of 31 or more, up from 747,531 in 2010. This is a 29% increase.
  • There are now 63,566 pupils in classes of 36 or more, up from 44,093 in 2010. This is a 44% rise.
  • Since 2010, there has been a 258% rise in the number of secondary pupils in classes of 36 or more. The leap is from 6,107 to 21,843.





Primary pupils in classes 31-35




Primary pupils in classes 36+




Secondary pupils in classes 31-35




Secondary pupils in classes 36+




Pupils in classes 31+




Pupils in classes 36+




The NEU can also reveal that 34% of teachers have nominated a reduction in class size as their absolute top priority for the next Parliament, regardless of who enters 10 Downing Street.

NEU members were recently asked to identify which policy change would be most critical for the next Government, in order to directly improve the quality of pupils’ education. “Reducing class size” came top, with 39% of secondary staff and 21% of primary staff choosing it above all other issues. This averages 34% of those polled.

This strong sentiment is in the context of:

  • Department for Education data (census January 2019) showing that 8.4% of all secondary school classes contain 31-35 pupils. (1)
  • The most recent OECD Education at a Glance report found that Britain has the largest primary school classes in the developed world, averaging 27. (2)
  • The percentage of secondary pupils in classes of 31 or more is at its highest (13%) since 1981. The average class size in primary is at its highest level since 2000. (3)
  • Pupil numbers have risen year-on-year in secondary schools, but real-terms funding cuts have squeezed schools’ ability to keep class size down.
  • There are 420,000 more pupils but 3,500 fewer teachers than in 2015.
  • Teaching assistant numbers in secondary schools continue to fall, by 3% in the last year alone and by over 15% in the last five years.

Our analysis of class size data shows:

The 20 constituencies with the largest primary classes are:

Christchurch; Eastbourne; Bournemouth East; Stoke-on-Trent Central; Mid Dorset and North Poole; Sutton and Cheam; Sheffield, Hallam; Dartford; Warley; Basildon and Billericay; Ilford South; Epsom and Ewell; Castle Point; Woking; Fareham; Bolton North East; Chelmsford; Maidstone and The Weald; Southend West; and Gravesham.
All have an average class size of 28.8 or more. The European average is 20. (4)

The 20 constituencies with the largest secondary classes are:

Worthing West; Barnsley Central; Winchester; Thurrock; Brighton, Pavilion; Fylde; Tunbridge Wells; Great Yarmouth; Sheffield South East; Bridgwater and West Somerset; Wakefield; Stockport; Barnsley East; Shrewsbury and Atcham; Colne Valley; Harlow; New Forest East; Gosport; North Devon; and Nuneaton. All have an average class size of 23.8 or more. The European average for lower secondary is 21. (5)

The 20 constituencies with the largest increase in class sizes are:

Clacton; Nottingham East; Bassetlaw; Birmingham, Northfield; Birmingham, Edgbaston; West Suffolk; Chatham and Aylesford; Maidstone and The Weald; Burnley; York Outer; Carlisle; Hereford and South Herefordshire; Rochford and Southend East; Liverpool, Walton; Fylde; Stone; Bolton West; Dartford; Jarrow; and Sheffield, Hallam. (6)

There are 263 constituencies with 100 or more pupils in classes of 36 or more.

The constituencies with the most children in classes of 36 or more are:

Ilford North; Bury North; Bermondsey and Old Southwark; Stoke-on-Trent Central; Stoke-on-Trent North; Middlesbrough; Chesham and Amersham; Manchester, Gorton; Old Bexley and Sidcup; Harrogate and Knaresborough; Bolton North East; Wantage; Barking; Stoke-on-Trent South; Poplar and Limehouse; Thurrock; Wyre and Preston North; Oldham West and Royton; Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough; and East Ham. (7)

Commenting on the analysis, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Pupils are experiencing the inevitable result of several Government policies which have conspired to put a squeeze on schools. The real-terms funding crisis has had catastrophic effects, including a direct impact on class size. Today’s analysis will ring true for every parent who has witnessed their school cutting teaching assistant posts, reducing subject choice, or organising fundraiser events and begging letters. This is sadly all too common and a growing issue.

“In addition, teacher recruitment continues to lag behind the rise in pupil numbers, especially in secondary, with not enough done to attract subject specialists to the profession. Government targets are missed year upon year. A continued depression in teacher pay combined with high levels of workload, means the Government has been vastly more effective at driving people out of teaching than in retaining them.

“Parents are no fools. They can see with their own eyes the impact of funding pressures on their children’s education, and the reduction in individual contact time that their child has with their teachers.

“Voters will scrutinise manifestos closely, and it would be foolish of any party to underrate the impact of education pledges, not to mention legacy, on the result. In this election the public knows that to value education, they must vote for education.”


The methodology and all associated data can be found here

Editor’s Note

  1. Statistics on pupils in schools in England as collected in the January 2019 school census
  2. Education at a Glance 2019
  3. Class sizes 1978-2019 – an analysis originally released by the NEU in April 2019, and based on Government data.
  4. Class size 2010-2019 by constituency & phase”, column W. Class size average
  5. Class size 2010-2019 by constituency & phase”, column AR. Class size average, Ibid.
  6. Class size 2010-2019 by constituency”, column X.
  7. Class size 2010-2019 by constituency”, column R.