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Serious planning required on class sizes

Reports suggesting that a study commissioned by the Class Sizes Working Party questioned the benefits of smaller classes have misread the research into class size and attainment and bring no clarity to the debate.

The study was limited: it was small, geographically narrow and lacked measures of reliability and validity. Some members of the working party - including myself - felt it was unlikely to yield much useful data.

Our final report is unequivocal in an assessment of the weaknesses: the study uses an inadequate measure of class size; there were changes to the size of some classes during the survey; and, crucially, there was no baseline attainment measure prior to the survey and therefore no way to know if improvement had taken place.

It would be useful to have valid and reliable research on the effects of smaller class sizes in secondary schools, but that will take time. We are in the middle of a programme to reduce class size, begun by the previous administration and continuing under the present Government. Before the May election, all parties were unanimous in applauding the value of smaller class sizes. What we now need is a return to that consensus and some serious planning as to how that desirable end can be achieved.

David Drever, EIS vice-president, member of Class Sizes Working Party.

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