Wales politics

Smaller infant class size policy questioned by adviser

Children in classroom Image copyright Thinkstock

An adviser to the Welsh Government has questioned its plans to cut infant class sizes.

Prof David Reynolds said evidence suggested reducing classes to under 25 did not bring significant results.

He said spending money on teachers' professional development would be better value for money.

The Welsh Government said the policy is an "important issue" for parents and could help teachers' workload.

It is part of the deal between the Labour-run Welsh Government and the Liberal Democrats that saw its only AM, Kirsty Williams, appointed education secretary in Carwyn Jones's cabinet.

There is also concern about the policy from within Labour's own ranks.

Backbencher Jenny Rathbone, AM for Cardiff Central, said the plan could "soak up" much of the £100m extra school spending Labour promised in its manifesto.

Last week, First Minister Mr Jones said: "Every new commitment in this administration will have to be paid for by a cutback somewhere else."

Image caption Labour leader and First Minister Carwyn Jones has appointed Welsh Lib Dem AM Kirsty Williams the education secretary

The Welsh Lib Dem manifesto included a plan to spend £42m over the next assembly term reducing reception, year one and year two class sizes to under 25.

The party said more than half of infants are taught in classes of more than 25, "stopping them from getting the best start in life".

Recent government data showed that 7.3% of pupils (7,835) were in infant classes of over 30 pupils, an increase on the previous year.

Prof Reynolds said: "If you look at the academic evidence you don't get much out of reducing class size.

"If you're employing extra teachers or classroom assistants, that's going to cost you and you can find other policies - for example trying to improve teachers' capacity and knowledge about education and teaching skills.

"You can find other policies which are much cheaper which will give you the same kind of bangs for your bucks."

The idea is supported by teaching unions.

But in 2012 a report by the think tank the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found "the size of the class is unrelated to the school system's overall performance".

And in 2011, the education charity the Sutton Trust said reducing class sizes was one of the "least effective" ways of improving school performance.

Ms Rathbone said: "We seem to have possibly overnight torn up our manifesto commitment to spend an extra £100m on school standards because I understand the Lib Dems have costed this class size reduction at £42m over the course of five years.

"I am concerned that reducing class sizes sounds good but it won't necessarily change anything for the better."

Image copyright Thinkstock

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Reducing infant class sizes to under 25 pupils is an important issue for parents and can have a positive effect on teachers' workload.

"That is why it is a priority area for the Welsh Government, and stems from the progressive agreement co-signed by the first minister and Kirsty Williams.

"Class sizes are not the only driver for improvement in our schools and we will of course continue to invest in teacher training, continual professional development and school standards.

"The most recent Schools' Census shows the average infant class size in Wales was 25.4 pupils, and so future proposals will likely focus on consistency across our school communities.

"Teachers in the Foundation Phase are supported by teaching assistants, with significant funding provided to maintain low pupil to adult ratios."

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