Large primary school class sizes are “the elephant in the room” when it comes to the inclusion of pupils with SEND, two leading academics have claimed.
Their research, published by the British Educational Research Journal this month, was based on 1,132 hours of classroom observation of pupils in years 5 and 9 who have statements of SEND, and of comparison groups of children who were developing typically.
The study examined class sizes, how children were grouped, the number of teachers and teaching assistants in the classroom and pupils’ interactions with adults and other pupils.
It found that Year 5 pupils with SEND in mainstream schools were taught in larger classes than those in Year 9.
In Year 5, 66 per cent of SEND pupils were in classes of 21 to 28 pupils, and 21 per cent were in classes with 29 or more pupils.
In contrast, 23 per cent of SEND pupils in Year 9 were in classes of 21 to 28 pupils, and only 3 per cent were in classes with 29 or more pupils.
SEND pupils 'should be taught in smaller classes'
Authors Peter Blatchford and Rob Webster, of the Institute of Education at University College London, write that this data is “troubling” and “counter to what is observed in education systems elsewhere in the world”.
They say: “The UK is unusual in having larger class sizes at primary school level than at secondary school level.
“One might have expected that, pedagogically speaking, it would make more sense for the younger pupils to be in smaller classes.
“But the situation that emerges from the present study is even more troubling, in that pupils with SEND in primary schools are in much larger classes than they experience at Year 9.
“If it is true that pupils with SEND are in general most effectively taught in smaller classes, then one might ask: why wait until their third year of secondary schooling before educating pupils in such small classes?”
They say that their findings “suggest that class size is ‘the elephant in the room’ when it comes to the inclusion of pupils with SEND in mainstream schools”.
Citing as yet unpublished evidence that large class sizes at primary level “will always make the inclusion of pupils with SEND problematic”, they say: “The policy implication is that wherever possible, children with SEN should be taught in smaller classes.”