Secondary school classes should be increased significantly, to free up time for teachers' continuing professional development, an education academic has said.
Professor Becky Allen, director of the Centre for Education Improvement Science at the UCL Institute of Education, said the UK has a “bizarre” system where the youngest children have the largest class sizes and this decreases with age.
Appearing on a panel at the Best in Class summit organised by the Sutton Trust last week in New York, Professor Allen was asked what radical reform she would introduce to improve teacher CPD.
She replied: “I would go for larger class sizes. I would go for larger class sizes for older children.
“We have this bizarre thing in the UK where our largest class sizes are for our youngest children, and then they steadily decrease.
“We do that because we have this really weird notion that we should have a large amount of choice in subjects that people teach.”
Professor Allen said that increasing class sizes in secondary schools “could lead to a big reduction in teacher contact hours”, which would release extra time for CPD.
“I would just have a standard compulsory education for children until they leave school, class sizes of 30 at least,” she said. “That is already 50 per cent more than a typical class size for children over 14.”
Speaking on the same panel, Professor Rob Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University, also said that schools should prioritise time for teacher CPD over class sizes.
“Imagine you're teaching classes of 30 and you had the money that could reduce those to 24,” he said.
“For the same amount of money you could teach four days and have a whole day off, and spend that whole day on professional learning.”
Researchers have long been sceptical about the impact of smaller class sizes on pupil outcomes. In the large meta-analysis of existing research conducted by New Zealand education academic, Professor John Hattie, reducing class sizes was found to have a relatively small impact on achievement.
The Education Endowment Foundation has said that existing research shows it is “very hard to achievement improvements from modest class size reductions”.
Professor Coe said that arguments in favour of cutting class sizes had “petered away” in England, as teachers have become more knowledgeable about education research.
“They’ve seen the research, they’ve read the [EEF] toolkit. They know class size isn’t where the impact is,” he said.
"What I think we’ve got is a really interesting phenomenon in England where teachers are engaging with research in really sophisticated ways actually, and I don’t see that happening anywhere else in the world at the moment.”