Hang Ups

19th May 1995 at 01:00
Who do you think you are kidding, Mrs Shephard? "There is no research to prove any link between class size and standards," she tells readers of the Sun. But look at Korea, at Taiwan, at Japan. Schools in these countries regularly have teaching groups of at least 50 - and their exam results, needless to say, are far more impressive than ours.

The simple truth is that when it comes to class size, bigger undoubtedly means better. Yet after 16 years of Mrs Shephard's party being in power, there are still only 20,000 pupils in the UK currently enjoying the benefits of being in a class of 40 or more.

What the moaning minnies who campaign against larger classes fail to recognise is that human beings - and essentially that is what children are - have a propensity to herd. Ask the baby boomers to name their generation's finest hour and they will talk of being cheek-by-jowl in Woodstock.

Older folk will recall the camaraderie of the crowded air-raid shelter or the Nissen hut. So when it comes to schooling, the rule is surely obvious enough for even the most Neanderthal professor of education to grasp: the more, the merrier.

Of course, the hair splitters will contend that there isn't the room in a classroom to accommodate more than a couple of score. Poppycock! Just remove the desks, chairs and other impedimenta. Children simply don't need them, as anyone who has travelled on a school bus will testify. Children are quite happy to stand. They are adept at jostling, elbowing, and like calves on their way to Dover nosing out sufficient oxygen to meet their respiratory needs. What's more, while so doing they are perfectly able to conduct loud conversations with chums at the other end of the bus, while simultaneously consuming several packets of crisps and this is the important point manipulating pen, pad and textbook as they complete the previous evening's homework.

Freed of furniture, how many children can the average classroom hold? In the absence of specific research, educationists will have to rely on the findings of those gallant young men and women who, eager to take their place in the Guinness Book of Records, have packed themselves into Austin Minis, phone boxes, motorcycle side-cars and similarly confined spaces.

Their pioneer work suggests that an average school room could easily contain 150 strapping teenagers, probably twice that number of tiny tots and even more if the school pursued a policy of stacking and had pupils arrange themselves in human pyramids. At a stroke, every school could then truly claim to be "a crammer".

Needless to say, there would be pedagogic implications. With that many children in the room, there would only be space for the most diminutive teacher and finding enough of them might prove difficult. Fortunately, new technology makes it possible to dispense entirely with teachers of all shapes and sizes.

Swipe cards and sophisticated management packages make registration automatic. Computerised records of achievement require no human input. Glorious multimedia packages are far more engrossing than chalk and talk ever could be.

The Internet system of international computer networks, as we're always being told, can provide children with instant access to anything they could conceivably want to know. Integrated Learning Systems contain thousands of hours of lessons which clever software can individualise to ensure pupils master all they need to know in English, maths and science.

It leaves the question of what the teachers now surplus to requirements are going to do. Perhaps they could attempt to get themselves into the Guinness Book of Records. There is, at present, no entry for the number of teachers that can crowd into a Job Centre.

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