Posts Tagged ‘Sutton Trust’

Class sizes

March 29, 2015 5 comments

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.

Great teaching leads to student progress

October 31, 2014 5 comments


Today the Sutton Trust report “What makes great teaching?” by Rob Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major was released. It’s a report I’ve eagerly been awaiting and I very much enjoyed reading it. You can download the report in full here free of charge. It’s only around 50 pages long and I’d say read it, but if your lacking in the time or the inclination I would say you should definitely still download it, and read the executive summary which is only around 3 pages long. This executive summary is a brilliant summary of the report, so I feel no need to summarise it here, but there are a few points I’d like to comment on.

Above is a screenshot of the start of the executive summary which includes the quote:

Great teaching is defined as that which leads to improved student progress.

That, to me, seems the most obvious thing in the world. If the pupils are progressing well in your subject, then the teaching is great. If the students aren’t progressing, then you need to look at what’s going on and put things right. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case in recent years.

Last year I was discussing the progress of my NQT with the SLT member in charge of the department. He had completed the penultimate NQT observations on those in the department and had graded one as outstanding and the one I mentored as requires improvement. We discussed this and he said that there were things missing from the lesson, the sort of things you would expect from all singing all dancing lessons – one example he gave was “he didn’t use lollipop sticks”!!! I found this particularly bad as the class he’d seen my NQT with was his year 9 class and I knew that the class in question had made significant progress throughout the year. More progress across the year, in fact, than any other class in year 9! Which to me proves that the teaching they were receiving was great. This points to an issue highlighted in the report:


I also had a discussion with a HoD at another school who told me he didn’t understand how his AS results had been so poor when he’d had a “consistently outstanding” teacher teaching them all year. My advice was simple: “you need to redefine your conditions for outstanding. If the students aren’t making progress, then you need to try something else.”

I’m glad that this report, and recent ofsted guidance, is signposting a move away from the idea of preferred teaching styles and single lesson judgements. Different things work for different teachers, and different things work for different classes. Context is key. There’s a wealth of ideas and things research suggests works in this report, and I’d suggest trying it out, I will be, but you need to always bare in mind that things that work elsewhere won’t always work for you.

Another key point I noted was the strength of evidence to say that Pedagogical Subject Knowledge was important, especially in maths.


This is something I’ve written about before, and again something that seems obvious. Yet I’ve often heard people say “If you can teach, you can teach anything.” I’ve experienced in my own education teachers that were one page ahead in the text book and it wasn’t effective. We need to ensure our pedagogical subject knowledge is up to scratch, that we know the links between our subject and the misconceptions likely to occur. This is particularly important now, as we are in the middle of massive curricula reform which will see a large amount of teachers teaching topics they haven’t taught before, and we all need to make sure we are prepared.


Teacher observations

A strong theme throughout the report is around observations. The report seems to favour heavily the idea that they are most effective when done in a formative developmental way.


They also have some pointers as to how this development can be helped:


These are ideas I like. I think all teachers should be constantly developing, and striving to improve. Hattie’s research suggests that there us a massive positive effect on outcomes when teachers see themselves as learners and this backs that up. I’ve noticed an uptake in the number if teachers I know undertaking further study, and this can only be a good thing.

The model of formative and development observations seems to oppose the recent move to performance related pay, and the report has this to say on it:


The report talks about creating a culture where teachers are comfortable discussing their shortcomings, and working to improve them. But if they are tied to pat progression then teachers may not feel comfortable owning up to them.

I was worried to see in the report that apparently 90% of teachers still buy into learning styles


Which is terribly worrying given the weight of evidence against then. It’s easy to find a bucketload but here’s one to start you off.

As you can see, there’s a wealth of fantastic stuff in the report, these are just a few key themes I’ve picked out that interest me. The mainstream media seem to think the main theme is about “lavish praise” but that’s just a tiny part!

If you have strong views on any of this, or anything else in the report, I’d love to hear then.

I’ll leave you with an interesting page on effective teaching of numeracy:


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