Three out of four teachers in the UK say class sizes are getting bigger, having a negative impact on pupil progress, levels of attainment and behaviour during lessons, according to a survey.
As schools struggle to help pupils catch up amid continuing disruption resulting from the pandemic, more than nine out of 10 (95%) teachers warned that bigger classes were damaging their ability to meet the needs of all pupils.
According to a poll of more than 3,000 teachers by the NASUWT teachers’ union, 91% were of the view that class sizes were adversely affecting their pupils’ progress and attainment, while 90% felt they were having a detrimental effect on pupil behaviour.
The union, which will debate the issue at its annual conference in Birmingham on Sunday, says class sizes are increasing because of shortages of teachers and increasing numbers of pupils on school rolls. Many teachers are also worried that cramped conditions are fuelling the spread of Covid.
Nearly eight out 10 teachers (78%) who took part in the poll said bigger class sizes mean there are not enough learning resources to go round, and of the 75% who reported increased class sizes, more than a third (37%) said numbers had grown “significantly”.
NASUWT members will vote on a motion calling for governments and administrations across the UK to introduce maximum class sizes at all key stages of education. Currently, there is no statutory limit on the size of any class above key stage one for pupils aged 5–7 in England and Wales, where classes are limited to 30 or below.
One teacher who contributed to the survey said staff shortages in their primary school meant they had been asked to combine their class of 22 with a colleague’s class of 24 when they were absent from work.
“The classroom is too small to accommodate 46 pupils at tables. Some have to sit and work on the floor. It is impossible to meet the needs of all pupils, especially [those with] additional learning needs, in this situation without support from a classroom assistant. I and the pupils find the situation stressful,” they said.
Another early years teacher said: “I have so many children that most days it’s difficult to fit them all on the carpet. At whole-class learning times, it feels impossible to meet the learning needs of all these children.”
According to government data, numbers attending primary and nursery schools peaked in 2019 and since then figures have started to drop. Numbers are however still increasing in secondary schools, where the population is not expected to peak until 2024.
Of those who took part in the NASUWT survey, two-thirds (67%) blamed an increase in the number of pupils on roll for growing class sizes, two in five (40%) said it was due to cuts to staff numbers, while the same proportion cited budget cuts or financial pressures.
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Increases in class size numbers are having a detrimental impact on both the learning experiences of pupils and the health and safety of teachers and students.
“This situation once again exposes the failure of government oversight over the last decade in relation to pupil place planning or in guaranteeing the additional investment needed to increase teacher numbers. Children and their teachers deserve better.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said 1m additional school places had been created over the past 11 years, the largest increase in school capacity for two generations.
“At primary, average class sizes decreased in 2020/21 compared with 2019/20 – the majority of primary schools have 27 pupils or less per class. At secondary school, class sizes remain low, with an average of 22 pupils per class in 2020/21, despite an increase of almost 800,000 pupils in the system since 2010.”