SCHOOL class sizes are being could be expanded to deal with the squeeze on places.
Twenty Oxfordshire schools are set to take nearly 300 extra pupils this year to help deal with the huge increase in the number of school age children.
Of those, 113 are new places this coming September, while 179 are at schools that have previously taken children over their planned capacity but are now making that number permanent.
In addition there will be 120 at potential new free schools and a primary school expansion at secondary St Gregory’s in Oxford.
Wheatley Primary School’s headteacher Joan Morters has already agreed to change its admission number from 50 to 60 for its reception two classes.
But Oxfordshire County Council education cabinet member Melinda Tilley admitted the plan would still not meet the total demand as some urban schools will be over-subscribed and some rural under-subscribed.
She said in some cases that may mean classes of more than 30 pupils in “exceptional circumstances” for a single period of one year.
She said: “That’s something we are having to look at.”
It became law in 2001 that class sizes should not exceed 30 pupils, although there are exemptions.
Last year there were four schools with classes with 31 pupils – Windmill in Headington, North Hinksey, Stanford-in-the-Vale and Wantage.
Mrs Tilley said: “We don’t do it if we can possibly avoid it and we are talking about one possibly, two rarely. Whenever we have done it, there has been movement within the year and the class has gone back to 30 again.”
Education expert John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, warned increasing class sizes even by one or two children could have a detrimental effect on pupils.
He said: “If it is a classroom that has been built since the (2001 law) was introduced, it will not have the physical capacity in most cases for more pupils.
“As class size gets bigger, it becomes more difficult to identify children with additional needs.”
Two new free schools are due to open in September – Tyndale Community School and Heyford Park Free School – and a primary school extension at St Gregory the Great School, Cricket Road, Oxford, is also proposed, which would each provide 60 extra reception places.
Mrs Tilley said: “We are working with everybody to get enough places, and it is a problem – but we will get enough places.”
She said the authority was in early discussions with about a dozen schools across Oxfordshire, but particularly in the Oxford, Abingdon and Banbury areas, about taking extra pupils.
There were 7,724 applications for places in September 2012, an increase of about 500 on the previous year. A further 200 on top of that are expected for next September’s intake.
In certain areas, the number of applications exceed places available nearby.
Wheatley Primary School will change its admission number from 50 to 60 in September.
Its proximity to Oxford means an increasing number of children who cannot find places at city schools are transported in by taxi.
Headteacher Joan Morters said the number of pupils arriving from Oxford by taxi had doubled to about 16 this year.
She said: “With those parents, we do a lot more phoning with them where we would normally see parents at the beginning or end of the school day.
“The children need to be in school and if there are no places closer, the children seem to cope quite well.”
Eighteen schools took extra children last September, while five dropped their admission numbers, making a net gain of 184 school places.
One former headteacher from Oxford said class sizes were routinely much larger in the 1960s.
John Collier taught at Blackbird Leys Primary School, North Kidlington Primary School, St Ebbe’s Primary School and Bampton Primary School. He finished his career as the headteacher at Dr South’s School in Islip.
Mr Collier, 68, from Cowley, said: “In the 1960s it was unusual to have as few as 30. It was definitely more in the city schools. When I was at Blackbird Leys and St Ebbe’s, 30 would be good. It is going back to what it was. It is not ideal, but it is manageable.”
Alvira Khan-Gordon lives in Headington, Oxford, and has one child at Windmill Primary School and two more she hopes will attend in the future.
She opposed the planned expansion at Windmill, which is currently being consulted on.
The proposal would see the 476-pupil school grow to 630 pupils.
She said: “Anyone who has spent time with young children will understand that noisy and busy environments take their toll on a child’s ability to focus and behave.
“My opposition is based on real concerns over whether any child who attends a larger, busier, more overwhelming school would really get the best start in their educational career.
“I prefer the idea of providing new one- or two-form entry schools as demand requires them – community schools could then remain community schools and every child in the county would get a comparable educational experience.”
She also opposed classes going over the 30 maximum.
She said: “It introduces a boundary shift that can then erode current standards on classroom size further.”
National legislation allows primary school classes to exceed 30 pupils per teacher in exceptional circumstances up until the end of the Key Stage One period.
Exceptions include children admitted outside the normal admissions round with statements of special educational needs specifying a school, children of UK service personnel and children from multiple births.
Classes with children classified as “exceptions” would not require extra staff. If a class had more than 30 pupils for a second year or where an exception did not apply, extra teaching provision would be required, according to Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley.
Children moving between schools is expected to bring numbers down before the end of an academic year and Mrs Tilley said to date this had always been the case.
THE county council has a budget of £34m to spend on extra school places, 48 per cent of which is earmarked for Oxford.
Of the total money, about £20m was for new places in September 2011, 2012 and 2013. The rest will be for further capital projects as children progress through primary school.
Schools are funded per pupil.
The county council also has a new classes fund which can make an additional allocation to classes for pupils admitted to reception.