Smaller Reception year classes should be trialled in England, a new study says.
Reception classes in England are capped at 30 children, higher than the norm of 20 for the corresponding age group in other countries, according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute.
The study by the thintank says that while international evidence “strongly indicates” that smaller class sizes for the entire school day are associated with greater educational effectiveness, there is no “golden rule”.
And it recommends: “Specific testing in Reception year should be carried out, above all to assess the impact of smaller classroom sizes in Reception year.
"Recognising the cost implications of such policy, we suggest that different staffing structures in Reception year could allow for bigger classes to be organised into small groups to achieve smaller ratios at least during certain activities (e.g., those which are more academically focused).”
The call for further research into Reception class size is one of the top three priorities in a number of recommendations for research proposed by EPI.
It said the other top two priorities for research should be testing a variety of nursery staff structures in terms of qualifications, training routes into the profession and years of experience; and testing whether CPD can be a substitute for pre-service training and, if so, to what extent. Existing research shows that a degree with a specialisation in early childhood is important, but not sufficient on its own, the report states.
“The evidence is also clear that for early years provision to deliver its promise, it needs to be of high quality. Yet, what ‘high-quality’ means is still debated,” the report says. “The existing evidence on what is meant by high-quality is dense, poorly understood and inaccessible to practitioners, commissioners and policymakers.”
'Evidence gaps' for early years
The review from EPI, which looks at workforce training, child-staff ratios and class size, has been published alongside another report from the Early Intervention Foundation, which looked at the research on what works in early years and also makes recommendations on what evidence is needed to ensure high quality in early years pedagogy.
The EIF report is a synthesis of 108 studies from the past 10 years, looking at the impact of 83 specific programmes which aimed to improve children’s language, literacy, maths or other skills.
It finds that overall the studies provide robust evidence on how to improve children’s outcomes in early years – but they were mostly carried out in the USA, which limited the usefulness of their findings in England.
It recommends more research into the effectiveness of programmes in England, more research on the impact on children under 3 and children at risk and a greater focus on assessing the long-term impact of programmes.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: “It’s clear from the reports released today that that high-quality, low-ratio early years provision is hugely important to effective provision and that early intervention is a vital means of ensuring children are capable of achieving their full potential when they start school – these conclusions will come as little to surprise to anyone working in the early years sector.
“However, both reports also raise important concerns about the serious gaps in the evidence being used to underpin the development of early years policy in this country. If the government truly is committed to supporting young children’s learning, and particular those children from more disadvantaged backgrounds, it must ensure that these evidence gaps are filled."
Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, said: “There are no great early years settings without great professionals working in them, which is why we want to continue to attract the brightest and the best. This ambition is backed by £20 million to provide training and professional development for early years staff in disadvantaged areas to increase their ability to support children’s early speech and language development.”