'Championing the rights of children'

Size does matter when you’re in a class of 42

Garry Tue 17 Feb 2015 09:49

Ed Miliband is right to take a stand on class sizes – overcrowding creates a poor learning environment and drives teachers out of the profession.

Class size doesn’t matter. That’s what the sceptics will tell you as they dismiss Ed Miliband’s pledge to limit class sizes for five- to seven-year-old pupils as pointless political posturing.

Class size definitely doesn’t matter, they will say. Unless you’re wealthy, that is, in which case you probably forked out a substantial amount of cash to get your child into a private school with tiny classes. Or unless you’re a teacher, and having an extra 10 children in your class means an extra 10 books to mark, 10 more resources to develop and 10 more children’s needs to plan for – all of which add stress and make you consider joining the growing number streaming out of the profession.

If you’re a child in a class of 42, crammed into a space made to accommodate 30, with a “desk” that is actually a windowsill and you’re sitting so far from the teacher that it’s difficult to hear her speak, then it matters quite a lot too.

And yet many people continue to insist that it doesn’t. They elevate academic research showing that children in large classes achieve roughly the same as those in smaller classes – or, more specifically, that to make any discernible difference to student achievement, class sizes have to be unaffordably small (around 15 pupils).

But there are two issues, so far, with the academic research suggesting that class size doesn’t matter. First, it tends to be calculated on marginal differences: as in, does a class of 32 pupils really achieve differently from one of 28? At that level of fluctuation, studies typically conclude that the number changes doesn’t make a difference, so adding a few extra kids into a class won’t matter.

Read more... (The Guardian - 17 February)