INFANTS across the region are being crammed into ‘supersized’ classes because of a growing shortage of places, worrying figures show.

The number of five to seven-year-olds in classes of more than 30 – the legal limit, except in exceptional circumstances - has more than doubled in just four years.

In January, the total stood at 4,107 across the North-East and North Yorkshire, up from 1,502 when the Coalition came to power, according to figures uncovered by Labour.

Loading article content

North Yorkshire (up 241 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (up 169 per cent) are among areas experiencing the sharpest rises in plus-30 classes.

But problems are growing everywhere, with the most acute crisis brewing in Sunderland - where the total has ballooned by 1,413 per cent since 2010.

Now Schools North East, a network of around 1,000 head teachers across the region, has warned more of its members are raising the alarm.

The Northern Echo:

And it has raised fears that the increasing “fragmentation” of state education is making it harder to create extra places where they are most needed.

Beccy Earnshaw, the organisation’s director, said: “This is a really important issue if it means there are too many children for the space that’s available, or if it makes it harder for the teacher to manage.

“That’s particularly true in primary schools, where hands-on learning is so important – if there are more children than the space is designed to accommodate, it can have a real impact.

“It has been suggested that this is a London issue, but these figures show it is happening up and down the country, including in the North-East.”

Labour claimed the figures showed limited money was being diverted from state primary schools to fund Education Secretary Michael Gove's controversial ‘free school’ programme.

To David Cameron’s embarrassment, the future prime minister promised “small schools with smaller class sizes” before the last election, Labour pointed out.

Tristram Hunt, Labour's education spokesman, said: “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.”

But the department for education (Dfe) blamed increases in pupil numbers dating back a decade and said local authorities had been given £5bn to spend on new school places.

A limit on infant school class sizes was introduced by Labour in the late 1990s, after it made a ceiling of 30 pupils a key election issue.

It states that no more than 30 should be taught by one teacher, but schools can legally waive the limit if, for example, a parent wins an appeal for a place.

More recently, Mr Gove has relaxed the regulations further, allowing schools to breach the limit for 12 months in some cases, provided numbers are brought down the following year.

Some experts argue larger classes make it harder for infants to learn, particularly those that need extra help or find it harder to pay attention.

A Dfe spokeswoman said: “We are giving local authorities £5bn to spend on new school place over this parliament - double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period.”