Labour will blame money being diverted to David Cameron’s “pet project” free schools for a rise in class sizes that has seen the number of primary pupils being taught in groups of 40 or more treble since 2010.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt will highlight the issue in the latest of a string of speeches by shadow cabinet ministers over the summer break seeking to draw attention to key election issues.
He will cite official figures showing 93,665 youngsters in classes of 30-plus – up 200% since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took power – with 5,817 of those sharing lessons with at least 49 others and 446 in groups of 70 or more.
If the last year’s trend was to continue through the next parliament, as many as one in four would be affected, Labour calculated.
“In 2008 David Cameron said ‘the more we can get class sizes down the better’, but as parents and pupils prepare to begin the new school year, there are real concerns about the number of children in classes of more than 30 infants under the Tories,” Mr Hunt will say.
“By diverting resources away from areas in desperate need of more primary school places in favour of pursuing his pet project of expensive free schools in areas where there is no shortage of places, David Cameron has created classes of more than 40, 50, 60 and even 70 pupils.
“Labour will end the Free Schools programme and instead focus spending on areas in need of extra school places.
“The choice on education is clear: the threat of ever more children crammed in to large class sizes under the Tories or a Labour future where we transform standards with a qualified teacher in every classroom and action on class sizes.”
He will say: “The choice at the next election is between higher standards and a better future for our children and young people, or more of the same from the Tories, who have damaged standards with the wrong priorities on education, allowing unqualified teachers in classrooms on a permanent basis and completely failing to deliver for all young people.
“Labour will transform standards with reforms that will deliver a world-class teacher in every classroom, the right priorities for planning school places and local oversight of schools, and with high-quality technical and vocational education at the heart of our plans to transform education and maximise the talents of all young people, so that all are able to play their part in renewing Britain.”
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Tristram Hunt seems to have forgotten that it was Labour who cut 200,000 primary school places in the middle of a baby boom – at the same time as letting immigration get out of control.
“As part of our long-term economic plan, the difficult decisions we’ve taken have meant we’ve been able to double the funding to local authorities for school places to £5 billion, creating 260,000 new places.
“But Labour haven’t learnt their lesson. Their policy of not trusting headteachers would create more bureaucrats, meaning more resources are spent on paperwork not places. Children would have a worse future under Labour.”