Making class sizes smaller sounds like a success story. But an international analysis of its impact shows unintended consequences – it often seems to mean lower pay for teachers and there isn’t much evidence that it brings better results. The BBC reports.
Reducing class sizes has been a popular policy in many countries, often supported by parents, politicians and teachers. Class sizes fell on average by 6% between 2006 and 2014 in the lower secondary school years in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
But when it comes to investing in schools there are always trade-offs – and countries can only spend their money once.
When education budgets are focused on cutting class sizes, the figures show there are usually reductions elsewhere – in particular in lower increases in teachers’ pay. Across a whole education system, smaller class sizes result in a greater number of classes, which require more teachers to lead them, which in turn means higher costs.
As well as needing more teachers, cutting class sizes can also mean building more classrooms and expanding schools.
For the first time, the OECD has quantified those trade-offs – and their magnitude is surprising.
To offset the cost of cutting the average class size by just one student, teachers’ salaries would need to decrease by more than $3,000 (£2,320) per year in more than half of countries in the OECD.
There can be other national and economic factors affecting teachers’ pay – such as the financial crash and policies on public-sector pay. But cutting class sizes will still mean taking money that could have been spent elsewhere.
There could be other options. Teachers could work for longer hours in the classroom and reduce their preparation and non-teaching time. Or there could be a reduction in lesson time.
But getting a balance from this would have a heavy price tag. In some countries it would mean cutting students’ instruction time by almost 70 hours per year to save the extra cost of recruiting more teachers to reduce class sizes.
Results from the latest Pisa tests show no association between average class size and science performance. In fact, East Asian countries such as Singapore and China often top the rankings both in terms of performance and in having the biggest class sizes.
Reducing class size is a costly measure, so it’s worth considering the benefits against other policy choices.
Read the full article When class sizes fall so does teachers’ pay
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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