Small class boost for youngest pupils

8th September 2000 at 01:00
Academics from across the country have gathered in Cardiff for this year's British Educational Research Association conference. David Budge reports on some of the key findings being presented.

FIVE-YEAR-OLDS can make impressive learning gains if they are taught in very small classes, a major new study has revealed.

Researchers who have

measured the literacy development of infants have found that lower-ability children taught in classes of 15 finish the Reception year about 12 months ahead of their peers in classes of 25.

More able children also gain from being in the smallest classes. They end their first year five months ahead of youngsters taught in classes of 25.

The study, which involved 10,000 pupils in 300 schools, is the first substantial investigation into the effects of class size to be mounted in Britain. It was carried out by researchers at London University's Institute of Education.

They found that Reception children also make faster progress in maths if they are placed in classes of 15 rather than 25. Lower-ability infants are given a seven-months boost while their more able classmates complete the year 10 months ahead of pupils in larger classes.

The advantage conferred by the smallest classes is less

pronounced in Years 1 and 2, say the researchers, who will present their findings at the BERA conference today.

Professor PeterBlatchford, leader of the research team, said: "The effects of class size are complex, and teaching quality is obviously vital, but it seems that the benefits begin to kick in once you get below 25.

"Our observations in a

sub-sample of small (average 19 pupils) and large (average 32) classes showed that children in smaller classes had more contact with their teachers, more teaching overall, more individual help from the teacher and more of a chance to ask questions and get answers.

"Teachers in smaller classes responded to pupils more quickly and effectively and knew more about individual pupils. Children in larger classes were less likely to be heard reading aloud."

Professor Blatchford and his colleagues, Professor Harvey Goldstein and Clare Martin, observed twice as much "off task" behaviour in the larger classes and found that children were more easily distracted.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the research suggests that smaller classes may be less socially

beneficial. "In classes below 20, teachers were more likely to describe children as aggressive or say that they were rejected by each other. In larger classes, children spent more time with each other, rather than the teacher, and so may have developed more independence."

Contact: Professor Peter Blatchford, Institute of Education, London

University, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAL

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