Size does matter when you’re in a class of 42

Writing in the Guardian, Laura McInerney says Ed Miliband is right to take a stand on class sizes – overcrowding creates a poor learning environment and drives teachers out of the profession…

…there are two issues, so far, with the academic research suggesting that class size doesn’t matter. First, it tends to be calculated on marginal differences: as in, does a class of 32 pupils really achieve differently from one of 28? At that level of fluctuation, studies typically conclude that the number changes doesn’t make a difference, so adding a few extra kids into a class won’t matter.

What we don’t know is whether there’s an upper class-size threshold at which teachers do see an impact on the quality of their teaching. Maybe all is fine at 32 pupils, but what about at 34, or 38, or 42? Which is not a hypothetical example, by the way, but the actual size of my own primary school class in the early 90s (complete with windowsill desks).

That experience taught me about the second issue with research on large classes: it overlooks the fact that most classrooms are built for 30 children. Even if studies conclusively showed that 20, or 50, was the perfect class size, politicians couldn’t click fingers and be done with it…

The £240m that Miliband wants to divert from free schools built in areas with surplus places into those with a need for more, sounds sensible, but when you set it against the £1.6bn already spent by the coalition to quench demand for places and the £1.6bn more committed going forward, you get some idea of how much bigger this problem is.

In the face of such daunting numbers, it is brave of the Labour leader to adopt a hard line on class sizes. But it is important that he does. Because class size does matter. Every child in the land who is using a windowsill as a desk can attest to that…

More at: Size does matter when you’re in a class of 42


I appreciate it is much, much easier said than done – for all sorts of practical and possibly ethical reasons – and irrelevant against some of the issues raised here by Laura McInerney – but I am baffled that there is such an apparent lack of evidence on the impact of different class sizes when it forms such an important part of the way all schools are set up…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Good point made by miss_mcinerney but we’d be silly to believe what any politician says in the run up to election frankly

  2. AlfredoNokez1

    SchoolsImprove Bigger classes = more marking = more stress = more staff illness = more kids failing = more stress = more staff illness etc.

  3. Rylee31

    SchoolsImprove if there are more children in a class more things are missed… SEN issues social & emotional well being low self esteem

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