Kate Green has accused the Conservatives of having “turned back the clock on education” as official figures show the number of children in classes with more than 31 pupils has increased significantly under the Tories.
Commenting on data showing that the number of children studying in classrooms with more than 31 students has risen by 43% in secondary schools and 3.7% in primary schools since 2016, she said the Tories are “holding back” children.
“The Conservatives have turned back the clock on education, reversing 20 years of progress to reduce class sizes and ensure every child gets the dedicated teacher attention they need,” Green said.
The number of children across England attending a secondary school classroom with more than 31 pupils went up by over 130,000 between 2016 and 2020, while the figure for those in primary schools increased by 20,000.
Information published by the Department for Education last year showed that average secondary school class sizes are at their largest since 2001, and that nearly one million school children overall are in classes with more than 31 pupils.
Labour has pointed to research from the Education Policy Institute showing that, alongside growing class sizes, disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their more affluent counterparts by the time they sit their GCSE exams.
“Under the Conservatives, the gap in learning between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had not narrowed for five years even before the pandemic. These Conservative choices are holding back children’s education.
“Labour has launched our Bright Future Taskforce to tackle the damage done by these policies, ensuring every child can recover from the pandemic and achieve their potential,” the Shadow Education Secretary said.
Keir Starmer and Green announced the launch of the new taskforce, which they said will develop a national strategy to recover the learning and social development lost during the pandemic, on a visit to a school in east London on Monday.
The party has said the body will focus on the whole experience of the education system, from early years through to adulthood, and that it will consider children’s happiness and wellbeing as well as educational attainment.
The opposition party has also called on the government to introduce catch-up breakfast clubs to help students recover from the impact of Covid, highlighting evidence that breakfast clubs can boost children’s educational attainment.
The government announced its education recovery plan last month. Green criticised the proposals for demonstrating a lack of ambition from ministers to tackle the scale of the damage done throughout the pandemic.
She also said the proposals would give rise to “more weeks of anxiety for young people and their teachers” as Gavin Williamson confirmed that guidance from exam boards on assessments will only be available at the end of the spring term.
The programme announced by the government includes £200m of funding to expand the national tutoring programme and a £302m “recovery premium” that will be given directly to schools to support the most disadvantaged pupils.
Critics of the plan outlined have argued that the measures put forward do not go far enough. NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said the £200m funding announced for summer schemes “won’t be anywhere near big enough”.
She also stressed that the £302m boost to the pupil premium falls far short of the £750m uplift recommended by the NEU and the education charity Sutton Trust. Bousted added: “This challenge is too significant to be met with half measures.”