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More infants 'in over-size classes'

The number of infants being taught in over-sized classes of more than 30 pupils has rocketed, figures show.

New statistics reveal that almost 100,000 five to seven-year-olds are now being taught in classes above the legal limit.

The data also shows that the number of "unlawfully" large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone.

A limit on infant school class sizes was introduced by Labour in the late 1990s, stating that no more than 30 youngsters should be in a class.

Under the rules, there are certain circumstances in which schools can legally waive the limit, for example if a parent win an appeal for a place. Recent changes have also meant that classes can be made larger to take in twins, or the children of those serving in the armed forces.

The latest figures, published by the Department for Education as part of a snap shot of the make-up of England's schools, show that as of January, 5.1% of infant classes - 2,985 in total - had more than 30 pupils.

Of these, 2,436 are considered "lawfully" large, and between them, they are teaching 76,075 pupils.

Last year, there were 2,074 classes that were legally above the limit, teaching a total of 64,815 youngsters and in 2012 there were 1,301 lawfully large classes, collectively educating 40,690 pupils.

The most common reason for a class being lawfully expanded was for pupils moving into the area outside of normal admissions for a school and for whom there was no other school place within a reasonable distance.

The second most common reason was pupils being admitted after their families won an appeal decision.

The figures also show that there are 549 unlawfully large classes, collectively teaching 17,270 children.

A year ago, there were 225 unlawfully large classes, teaching 7,125 pupils between them.

It means that in total, there are almost 100,000 infants now being taught in classes that are either lawfully, or unlawfully over-sized.

Overall, the average class size for five to seven-year-olds is now 27.4 pupils, up from 27.3 last year.

The figures come amid a continuing squeeze on primary school places, fuelled in part by a rising birth rate.

Labour accused the Government of breaking a pledge to cut class sizes.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "David Cameron and Michael Gove promised small schools with smaller class sizes.

"Yet in government their decisions have meant thousands more children are being crammed into overcrowded classes, threatening school standards. They have created a crisis in school places, spending hundreds of millions of pounds on Free Schools in areas that already have enough schools places - and children are paying the price."

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