Find alternative to class size reduction

12th October 2007 at 01:00
Aficionados of Christopher Brookmyre will know of his advice in Boiling a Frog on how to get a doubtful fact accepted as an absolute truth. The method is simply to state the "fact" as truth and with absolute certainty every time the matter is raised.

It is interesting to watch this process happening over class sizes. Suggestions that they should be reduced to 18 are always backed by the assertions that it is wanted by parents and teachers, and that the benefits are supported by the Tennessee Student Teacher Achievement Ratio project.

I cannot speak for teachers whose support for reduction may be absolute, but parents are less united. If the reduction results in some parents being unable to get their children into a popular school because of classroom capacity, this is not a good change.

Then there is parents' behaviour. Some schools have very small classes, but this is often because parents have chosen to exercise their right to place their children in a school where the classes happen to be larger. Parents choose school before class size.

What is more serious is the weight given to the STAR project in arguing that this is the way to go. Subsequent re-evaluations of the project suggest that it cannot support its claims. Recently, Valerie Wilson of the Scottish Council for Research in Education undertook a literature review on the effects of class size on teaching practices and pupils' attainment ( She reports on Hanushek's review of the STAR project in 1998, which found that there were con- ditions in the original experiment that contaminate the analysis and raise serious questions about the validity of the conclusions.

She says most researchers agree there is a relationship between small classes, especially in early years, and pupil attainment. But she points out that "there is no evidence that in the long term it will be sufficient to raise the attainment of all pupils".

Before millions of pounds are committed, it is worth considering whether there are other, better ways of helping children learn.

Judith Gillespie

development manager,

Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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