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Class sizes

Today the labour party released a list of 40 things they would change should they come to power in may, (you can see the list here). When I was reading it I was pleased to see “smaller class sizes” included at number 4, the first non-nhs point on the list.

In my experience smaller class sizes lead to better progress. The smaller the class the lower the amount of low level disruption and the higher the amount of time the teacher can devote to each learner. Both these facts mean student progress is enhanced.

But, I’m sure I read that class size has no effect?

I’m sure I have too, I think it’s in the Sutton Trust toolkit produced by the EFF. Which is itself a meta analysis. I’d like to read the studies individually, as it goes against my own experience and the experience of every teacher I’ve ever spoken to.

I haven’t read the studies, so can only hazard a guess as to why the effects don’t show what we see. It could be that the analysis is distorted by other variables. I know that in the four schools I’ve been involved with the top sets have been bigger, so analysis run on class size vs progress would be distorted by the fact the most able make the most progress. If you have experience of, or links to, these studies do let me know, I intend to investigate further.

So how do you know your experience isn’t distorted by similar other variables?

There are two cases that I’ve been involved in that make me sure class size does have an effect in progress, certainly within the environment of a lower middle ability class at a school within a deprived area.

When I was an NQT I had a year 7 class who were set 7 or 9. The class had 26 pupils in it and over the first three half terms had made minimal progress, this was across the board in all subjects. A teacher was employed to take half their class in each subject and we specialists were to plan the lessons. Each pupil in that class made significantly more progress after the split than before it.

Then last year I had a year ten class, lower middle ability, with nearly 30 pupils in it. The class were mostly progressing well, but around 8-10 of them weren’t progressing as well as we knew they could. Extra capacity became available within the team and we split the class, from that point on the whole class made much more progress than they had before.

What are your views on class size? Have you any personal experiences? Have you seen a positive effect? Do you agree with the view of the Sutton Trust toolkit that it doesn’t have an effect? I’d live to hear your thoughts.

  1. April 3, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. ijstock
    April 3, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    The reason for smaller class sizes not showing up in data may be two-fold.

    1. The measures of progress are too narrow and fail to account for the indirect and sometimes subjective impacts that a higher teacher-pupil ratio causes.

    2. The effects are sometimes indirect, via the impacts they have on the teacher rather than the pupils – which of course data tend not to be interested in. For example, the increase in ‘teacher energy’ caused by smaller classes or ‘better relationships with pupils’ will be invisible.

    Try looking at this for a somewhat different view…


    • April 3, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Interesting stuff, thanks!

  3. April 3, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    Last year I attended a visible thinking introductory workshop. The effect size according to John Hattie’s effect size class size is not effective. Quite a few of us questioned this. I too have experienced better than expected progress with small groups. The reason we were given was that usually with smaller classes, teachers carry on teaching exactly the same way as they would with a large class.

    • April 3, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      Ah, thats intresting, i guess it wouldnt effect it much in that case.

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