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Does Class Size Matter?

Claire Winter Claire Winter | 12:31 UK time, Thursday, 9 June 2011

The obvious response to this question is that smaller classes would be better for our children. They would get more attention from the teacher and hopefully better results in all aspects of their schooling.

The evidence of the ill-effects of large classes is quite compelling.

And the news for UK parents is not brilliant: class sizes in the UK are amongst the largest in the developed world, with an average of 26 pupils in a class.

Learning biology at school @ .shock - fotolia

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), shows that Japan and South Korea have the largest class sizes, with well above 30 per class on average, whilst Greece has the smallest, with an average of 17 pupils per class. 

Larger class sizes are obviously more cost effective. One article presents a case for the large primary class size in the UK as they help to ‘lower costs' - ‘The larger class sizes allows the UK to afford better teacher pay and longer student learning hours, so basically it’s quite an effective spending choice.’   Many children at primary level at Key Stage 1 are in classes of 30 (there is a limit of 30 pupils per class for children aged 5 to 7). By Key Stage 2, class sizes often exceed 30.

A recent study by the Institute of Education has proved that smaller class sizes are particularly beneficial for children who are low achievers.

The research shows that pupils in large classes struggle to concentrate and have little interaction with the teacher. Students were twice as likely to misbehave in classes of 30 as they were in classes of 15. The report suggests small classes can be a valuable educational initiative right through school, but should be particularly targeted at lower attaining pupils at secondary level.

When I talk to my eight year-old about school, (she is in a class of 30) it often sounds like her teacher spends most of her time on crowd control and discipline, rather than teaching. I sometimes wonder how much one-on-one attention she actually gets.

Whilst I believe teachers are doing an admirable job, teaching more than 30 children must be a real challenge, even with the help of a teaching assistant. Perhaps this is too great a challenge?

Yet it is unlikely that the situation is going to improve. Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned that primary schools have to find places for an extra 350,000 pupils over the next four years, due to a 15 per cent increase in applications.  

This coupled with spending cuts, surely means that class sizes are set to increase, even if more schools are built to cope with the extra demand. A recent report from Durham University claimed that the quality feedback from a teacher is more important than class size. .It costs a lot to reduce class size and it only works if class size is considerably reduced but improving teaching is more achievable.

I agree that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education seems to support the financial interests of schools and institutions, but I’m not convinced it meets the educational needs of our children. 

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.


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  • Comment number 3.

    my child has special needs and sensory issues are his biggest problem.he used to being a class of 15 and was doing well now he is in a class of 30 and being excluded on a regular basis.he hasnt had a formal education for 2 years now and has spent the last 8 months in segregation in the staff room.i am having to move now because the nearest special needs school is 20 miles away and although there is one 5 miles away it is in a different county.I do worry because they wanted special needs children in mainstream but now with the schools bursting at the seams children like my son are excluded and bullied and education do now want to pay the money for special needs school.so my child has been a pawn in a political game.he is 8 1/2 and con not read or write and can not stand the noise levels.


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