Titan classes claimed by Telegraph were whole-school assemblies led by one teacher, the DfE reveals

Janet Downs's picture
Hundreds of pupils were already being taught in classes of over 70 pupils, claimed the Daily Telegraph on 18 August 2014 (reproduced on Schools Improvement Net):

‘According to official data, both the Crescent Academy in Stoke-on-Trent and Southey Green primary school in Sheffield have the biggest classes, with 78 pupils to one teacher at each of the schools. They are followed by the White Hall academy in Essex, which has 77 pupils to a class, and Newdale Primary school in Telford which has 72.’

What was the official data used by the Telegraph for its analysis? School Performance Tables for 2013 showed none of the named primary schools had a teacher/pupil ratio higher than the limit of one teacher for 30 pupils. This was confirmed in the DfE response to my Freedom of Information request:

‘The Pupil-teacher ratios for the schools to which the article referred - Crescent Academy, Southey Green Primary School, White Hall Academy and Newdale Primary School - are 20.8, 20.9, 21.6 and 23.6 respectively.’

So where did the 70+ class size claim come from?

The Telegraph’s figures were based on data submitted by schools on school census day in November 2013*. If a school had a multi-class assembly led by just one teacher on census day then the school had to record the fact, the DfE explained. The real reason for the titan classes was not, as the Telegraph claimed, ‘immigration and the baby boom’ but because one teacher led the whole school in hymn singing and this multi-class assembly happened to take place on school census day.

That’s not to say that shortage of primary school places in certain areas is not a serious problem which needs to be tackled, but to claim that there are already ‘hundreds of pupils’ being taught in classes of 70+ is misleading.

The Telegraph has since removed the paragraph quoted above from the on-line version although the paper has not said the article has been changed. The removed section remains on other websites including Schools Improvement Net, Teaching Times and Federation of Leaders in Special Education.

*November 2013 school census figures were in Statistical First Release (SFR) ‘Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2014’ released on 12 June 2014.
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Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 11/09/2014 - 11:14

This is all very murky. The person who has been making hay with these figures has been Tristram Hunt. Given that one of the schools alleged to have titan classes was in Stoke - where Hunt's constituency is - he could easily have checked and discovered the actual facts!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 11/09/2014 - 15:25

Barry - it was crass of Hunt to claim 'David Cameron has created classes of more than 40, 50, 60, even 70 pupils' in his speech on 18 August. Such misleading exaggeration does him no favours.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 07:20

Barry - I should have made it clear that it wasn't Hunt who named the schools but the Telegraph. The fact that the paper has removed the paragraph which identified the schools suggests it realised it wasn't just misleading but stupid.

What was surprising was that the comments under the DT's article took the claim at face value. No-one thought it was surprising that classes of 70+ existed. But the fact would have been loudly publicised by parents and appeared in Ofsted reports. As far as I'm aware it was only me (writing as ex-Secondary Modern Teacher) who queried the data.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 16:34

The DT article was written by Steven Swinford, the Telegraph's senior political correspondent.

jennyquestions's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 22:58

The next question is: what school did Steven go to and what grades did he get?

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