Hunt accused of 'scaremongering' over school places

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Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has accused Tristram Hunt of "scaremongering" over infant class sizes and said his claims of burgeoning classes have "no foundation".

Mr Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said there had been a 200% increase in the number of infant pupils being taught in classes of more than 30, since 2010, while 446 children were taught in classrooms of 70 or more last year.

He accused the government of prioritising spending on its flagship free schools programme rather than investing in reducing class sizes, during the Labour-led debate.

But Mrs Morgan contested the figures as she responded on 3 September 2014, and told MPs the rise in pupils in class sizes of over 30 was actually "just 3%".

She dismissed Mr Hunt's figures on class sizes of 70 pupils as "simply and utterly wrong", and said this related to certain activities such as swimming or arts and crafts.

"[Mr Hunt] has misread the facts, there is absolutely no foundation to his claim. This is in fact nothing but scaremongering of the worst kind.

"He's not just wrong about children regularly being taught in class sizes over 70, but classes over 60, over 50 and over 40 as well," the Conservative minister asserted.

Mrs Morgan said the government had acted to clear up Labour's "mess", and created almost 4,500 infant classes since 2010.

She defended free schools as an "amazing story of success" which provide 175,000 new places mainly in areas facing a shortage or in areas of deprivation.

Mr Hunt had quoted figures from the National Audit Office that two thirds of free schools had been established in areas where there is no shortage of school places. Mrs Morgan said she did not recognise the figures, and stated that seven out of 10 mainstream free schools have been opened in areas of basic need.

Several Conservative MPs, including Stewart Jackson, intervened during Mr Hunt's opening speech to say Labour cut 200,000 primary school places during a baby boom.

The shadow secretary of state responded by telling the Commons the party created 1,100 new - mainly primary - schools between 1997 and 2007.

Heather Wheeler, the Tory MP South Derbyshire, said the previous government's "chaotic" immigration policy had put pressure on school places, by increasing demand.

Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins defended Labour's record on class sizes, insisting the party had made "huge strides" in reducing the number of pupils taught in classrooms of 30 or more.

Labour's motion - which called for capital spending to be re-directed to areas where more places are needed - was rejected in a vote, by a majority of 96.

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