Teachers are heading for a conflict with the government over class sizes.
The National Union of Teachers is to vote at its annual conference in Manchester this weekend for a legal requirement that the maximum class size is 20 by the year 2020.
Teachers anger has been stirred by schools minister Jim Knight who was booed by delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference on Wednesday when he suggested class sizes of over 38.
He caused further anger by giving an example of a ‘successful’ class of 70 led by just one qualified teacher with ‘adult assistance’!
Knight yesterday told the BBC he had not called for class sizes of 70 but stood by his example.
NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott slammed Knight’s call for larger class sizes, saying ‘I think the minister is very wrong on that, and I think I would be supported by every teacher in the country.
‘And I’d probably be supported by every parent in the country.
‘If you want to give the children the type of individual attention that every child needs, you have to have smaller class sizes’.
He said the NUT was not against teaching assistants but stressed ‘they are supporting the teachers and not replacing them’.
Sinnott said: ‘We want to reduce class sizes below 30. We want to establish a target date of the year 2020 being the date in which we get a maximum class size of 20 youngsters.’
He stressed that prime minister Brown in 2006, in his last days as chancellor, had pledged to put extra funding into reducing class sizes.
Teachers will be voting this weekend on motion 33 from St Helens, seconded by Birmingham, ‘Maximum Class Size’.
After noting the current 25.8 per class exceeds the figure for most EU countries, the motion states: ‘Conference also notes the Prime Minister’s pledge in 2006 to fund state education on a par with the private sector.
‘Conference, however, further notes that the Government has been unwilling to legislate for a maximum class size, despite plentiful data linking high achievement to low class size regimes.
‘Finland, for example, which is widely considered to be the highest achieving country in Europe, enjoys a maximum class size of 20, while it is anticipated that in Scotland class sizes for the first three years of primary education are to be reduced to a maximum of 18.
‘Conference believes that a significant and legally binding reduction in maximum class size in the state sector would be beneficial for schools, parents, students and staff. More personalised learning could be provided for learners, while assessment and planning would be more manageable for teachers.
‘Conference, therefore, instructs the Executive to:
‘1. Seek a commitment from the Government to implement a phased legally binding maximum class size of 20 by 2020 in both primary and secondary schools, and a moratorium on school closures;
‘2. Launch a vigorous campaign for this reduction in taught class sizes amongst members and in alliance with other trade unions, parents, governors and students around the slogan “Our Children are Worth It!”.
‘In the event of the Government and employers failing to agree to this just and necessary reform, and in the light of the Executive’s failure to pursue vigorously previous policy on this question, Conference instructs the Executive to ballot the membership before Easter 2009 on a rolling and escalating programme of industrial action, up to and including strike action, on the basis of a dispute arising from the employers’ failure to provide an adequate work-life balance by reducing our workload via this measure.’