THOUSANDS of Oxfordshire school pupils are now being crammed into oversized classes, new figures reveal.

Hundreds of the youngest primary pupils in the county are in classes that exceed the statutory limit of 30, while in Years 3 to 6 – where there is no legal cap – 3,661 pupils are in such classes, up from 2,597 in 2010.

And, as the county's population continues to bulge, more than 5,000 secondary school pupils are also now being taught in classes of at least 31.

Diane Wilson, joint district secretary of Oxfordshire's National Education Union branch, said the impact of larger classes was 'colossal.'

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She said: "For students, this means that individual attention time from the teacher will be greatly reduced.

"Health and safety factors in some areas of the curriculum will also come into play."

The union representative also warned of the increased pressure on teachers and support staff.

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She said: "There will be more time spent on detailed planning, consideration of the best seating arrangements, preparation of materials, marking, report writing and data analysis.

"This is all not good for a sensible work-life balance, and certainly not for teacher recruitment or retention."

The statistics from the Department for Education all relate to classes led by just the one teacher.

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Data collected in the January school census show there were 341 Key Stage 1 children (Years 1 and 2) in classes of between 31 and 35 pupils – almost double the number since 2010.

Although the government enforces a 30-pupil cap at this stage – when pupils are aged five-to-seven – the government does allow exceptions.

For example, if there are twins who want to be in the same class or if a pupil is in local authority care, a larger class will be labelled 'lawful.'

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Of the classes which exceeded the limit in Oxfordshire this year, two were 'unlawful' and had not met that criteria.

These were at Pegasus Primary School in Blackbird Leys, and Wantage CE Primary School, both of which had an unlawful class of 31.

The DfE figures also revealed there were four Key Stage 2 classes in the county with at least 36 pupils in.

There is no currently no cap for Key Stage 2, which covers Years 3 through 6, despite campaigns from unions.

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Data showed that Windale Primary School in Blackbird Leys and Edith Moorhouse Primary School in Carterton each had a class with 37 pupils.

Despite the increase in children being taught in larger classes, overall class sizes in Oxfordshire have stayed relatively constant and remain below national averages.

Between 2010 and this year the average size at Key Stage 1 dipped slightly from 25.7 to 25.3, and at Key Stage 2 increased from 26.1 to 27.1.

Average class sizes at the county's secondary schools during the same period rose from 20 to 21.9.

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Some critics have blamed funding pressures for the rise in larger classes, with some schools combining classes to reduce staffing requirements.

From September, Wootton-by-Woodstock CE Primary School, in West Oxfordshire, plans to merge two classes into one to cope with budget pressures.

As it is a small school, however, it said the move would not change its 'extremely good' teacher-to-pupil ratio.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said of the national picture: "Class sizes have increased because schools have had no alternative other than to reduce the number of staff they employ at the same time as pupil numbers are rising.

"Without improved funding this situation will worsen."

Some educators and academics argue that larger classes make no difference to learning, with some advocates citing the high-performing Chinese education system as an example.

A Department for Education spokesman said the government had created around 920,000 school places since 2010, and was on track to create one million by 2020.