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Letters extra: Learning and progress are not the same

I am surprised that you should fall into the trap of equating "learning" with progress in literacy and maths, presumably as measured by tests. Under the headline "Assistants make no difference to pupils" (TES, May 17) you report quite briefly on a significant piece of Government sponsored research and quote the conclusion that the number of adults in a class made no difference to the progress of children in any year group.

It isn't really surprising if formal measures of "progress" have a positive correlation with the more formal methods of teaching which are associated with larger classes and whole class teaching. The larger the class the less time and space the teacher has for individual and group work so more time is devoted to the more structured activities including rote learning. Hence the outcome of earlier research in Scotland, which showed that children in classes of 40 scored better in tests than children in England where class sizes were nearer 30. This was used by the Conservative Minister of Education John Patten to oppose reducing class sizes.

The trouble is that quantitative measures only show part ot the picture in terms of the quality and range of children's education. This is particularly important in the early years of schooling, when learning how to work on your own and as part of a group lays down the foundation for your whole educational development.

Any primary class teacher could give instances of the way in which a second adult can help both the individual child and the group overcome difficulties and extend interests. For some practical activities more than one suitable helper will improve the outcome. But common sense and the limits on physical space set a limit on the number of extra adults and the ways in which they could affect educational progress.

The teachers interviewed valued consistent support and found large classes more difficult. That is hardly a surprise! If the statistics give no indication of the value to the children's education of smaller classes and more individual help perhaps that is due to the way the research was framed and the actual question asked. The key to the value of this study is how "educational progress" is defined and measured. Frustratingly Helen Ward's report gives no indication of either. Nor does it justify the assertion that "Assistants make no difference to pupils".

Anne Jarvis, 92 Hadley Road, New Barnet, Herts EN5 5QR.
The writer has had 4 years experience in social research and 30 years as a primary class teachernbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

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