US shows we must think small

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Following reports that more American educational methods may be introduced to Britain, it is strange that the most significant US development is not being introduced - lower class sizes.

Britain has the most overcrowded primary classrooms in the industrialised world. The UK has twice the number of pupils per primary teacher as countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Portugal or Italy.

In America, new teachers are being employed as classes are cut by law to 22, 20 or below, and parent groups campaign for higher taxes to pay for class size reductions. But in the UK trained teachers are being thrown on the dole as class sizes are raised to artificially high levels by the policy of creating mixed year group classes.

Research has shown that poor children benefit from smaller classes. Studies in the US show students from all backgrounds in smaller classes are on average a year ahead of similar students in larger classes. Yet in Britain, far from using the opportunity given by falling rolls to cut class sizes, the reverse seems to be happening. Why?

The answer, of course, is money. A lot of money has gone in to education recently, but it is being spent on gimmicks, reorganisations, gadgets, new "initiatives" and buildings. Anything but teachers. In Britain, the Government seems to think that a few more partly-trained teaching assistants will improve learning.

Today's multi-cultural, mixed-ability, inclusive classrooms cannot run with huge class sizes like the streamed, rote-based classes of 40 years ago could. Teachers cannot devote the time to each pupil to make differentiated learning effective. Why not set a target to cut primary and secondary classes to no more than 20 within five years?

Al Abilla

4 Lowfield, Scarborough

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