The number of children in unlawfully oversized local authority maintained infant classes has risen 81% in 12 months, according the School Census Results 2017.
Published today, Welsh Government data shows that as of January this year there were 887 children in unlawfully large infant classes compared to 490 a year earlier.
Infant classes are deemed illegal when they reach 31 pupils or over, unless permission has specifically been granted by a local authority to the school for a size increase following an official evaluation.
The number of pupils in lawfully oversized classes – 30 or more – also rose to 8.2% (8,724) from 7.6% during the same period.
Two weeks ago Welsh Conservatives revealed that nearly three-quarters of all infants are being taught in classes of over 25 pupils, despite an election pledge by the Cabinet Secretary for Education.
According to the Welsh Government there were almost 80,000 pupils in infant classes of more than 25 in January of 2016, and over 8,000 in classes of over 30, an increase of 18% since 2013 (source).
Thirty-six million pounds has been pledged over four years by the Welsh Government to deliver on infant class sizes pledge – this despite a 2012 report by the think tank the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which concluded that "the size of the class is unrelated to the school system's overall performance".
Furthermore, the census data reveals that there are today 109 fewer local authority maintained schools than there were in 2013, while between 2015 and 2016 153,848 sickness absences by full-time teachers were recorded, marking an increase of 2.2%.
Commenting on the data, Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“This census shows the folly of the school closure programmes we've seen across Wales in recent years and clearly demonstrates yet further evidence that the Welsh Labour-led Government is breaking its promises to parents and young people.
“Labour has already back-peddled on pledge to wipe tuition fee debts and now we see class sizes in excess of legal limits in spite of promises to reduce them.
“It’s abundantly clear to me that there is no prospect of the Cabinet Secretary’s target being delivered. I therefore call upon the Welsh Government to re-direct the millions earmarked for this pet project to increasing school budgets across the board, so that head teachers can invest in their schools and retain staff that are either thinking of quitting, or at risk of being laid off due to budget cuts.
He added: “It’s also troubling to see such a marked increase in the number of teachers taking sickness absence, this is likely to add to the growing teacher recruitment crisis we are seeing across Wales."