BOLTON education experts have criticised new research which states that smaller class sizes in primary schools are having no impact on pupils' performance.

A report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills found that limiting the number of pupils in classes had no bearing on the progress children made in mathematics, English and science among nine and 10-year-olds.

And the findings revealed that pupils aged between six and 11 actually made more progress when they were in larger classes, bucking the traditional view that smaller classes are more beneficial to students' education.

The report states: "No evidence was found that children in smaller classes made more progress in mathematics, English and science.

"Perhaps the clearest effects of class size were on teaching.

"Pupils in smaller classes were more likely to be the focus of a teacher's attention and experience more teaching overall in mathematics, while in larger classes pupils were more likely to be one of the crowd.

"Many teachers worry that in large classes they cannot meet the needs of all the children in their class."

But education chiefs, headteachers and union leaders in Bolton have criticised the findings and claim smaller class sizes are vital to ensuring pupils' success in schools.

Chris Swift, Bolton Council's assistant director of education and culture, said: "Bolton Council supported the Government initiative to limit class sizes, and increasingly junior age classes are now smaller than they were, because of the smaller intakes into reception and infant classes.

"The workload for teachers with classes of more than 30 children is greater.

"With a class of 30 rather than 35, the teacher can have more time with individual children, small group work is easier to supervise and support, there are fewer books to mark, and the quality of interaction with children is better."

Catherine Fenton, headteacher at Heathfield Primary School, Henniker Road, said: "There is nothing in the report which sways me from my view that the biggest single factor which influences how well children perform is the quality of teaching they receive. This is nothing to do with a teacher's age, or length of time they have been at a school but how well they perform in front of a class.

"A good quality teacher will have an impact upon any group, but larger classes can lead to freewheeling pupils, increased discipline problems and increased pressures for planning and assessment. It therefore follows that a good teacher will have a greater impact in a smaller class."

National Union of Teachers Bolton representative, Barry Conway said: "If teaching takes place in classrooms of more than 30 children and methods of teaching are mechanised then we can get good results like in any factory.

"But this research does not reflect the real world of education. Why do people pay £20,000 a year to send their children to public schools? Because parents know that smaller class sizes help their children get a much more rounded education."

The Government has made it a legal requirement that five to seven-year-olds in England are not taught in groups of more than 30, except in special circumstances.

In April last year there were four primary schools under Bolton Council control that had one teaching group with more than 30 pupils.

But the council says that in each case the extra numbers have been admitted to the school under special circumstances.