There was a flurry of news last week about the benefits of smaller class sizes. The Daily Mail  quotes the OECD’s latest Education at a Glance (link not available at time of writing) as saying that ‘Britain gets a poor mark’ as our class sizes have a ‘fifth more pupils compared to other developed countries’ or the fourth largest class sizes at 25.8 pupils compared with an average of 21.5.

The Scotsman declares that evidence shows classes of 20 pupils or under for the first three years of school “produce long-term benefits for literacy and numeracy, especially for low achievers”…

However, the article continues by conceding that other academics have cast doubt on the policy. Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education in London, said greater focus on monitoring pupils’ progress would provide better value for money.

Wiliam cites formative assessment (such as AifL) as being more cost effective.

A SCRE Report Does Small Really Make a Difference? claims that much of the existing evidence is at best confusing, sometimes even contradictory. However, there is sufficient evidence, mainly from American studies, to show that class-size reduction is associated with improvement in pupil achievement, particularly at the early stages.

Teachers’ perceptions are certainly that class size affects their teaching practices, in particular how they organize within-class groups and devote time to individual children. There is a paucity of evidence on the effects of class size on pupils’ learning.

Perhaps in an era when we are encouraging collaborative learning, alternative approaches to organizing within-class and across-year groupings, more one-to-one tutoring from teachers and classroom assistants during the working day, and peer tutoring we can move away from the assumption that one teacher is in charge of 25 to 30 young people.

With the move towards children being more active in constructing their own learning perhaps the debate about class sizes will cease to be so contentious.

 

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