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The class sizes debate is tired, and asks the wrong questions

Feb 16, 2015 by

Peter Blatchford  – ‘Small is good, big is bad’ is too simplistic. We should be looking at the relationship between effective teaching and pupil numbers

Class sizes have been in the news recently. On Thursday the Labour party pledged that if elected it would cap class sizes at 30 for pupils aged five to seven years.

By contrast, last week the head of the OECD Program of International Student Assessment (Pisa) surveys, Andreas Schleicher, set out the seven big myths about top-performing school systems, with myth number four being that small classes raise standards. This can’t be right, he argues, because high-performing education systems like those in east Asia focus on better teachers, not class sizes.

These two attitudes reflect opposite sides of a longstanding and angry debate which resurfaces at regular intervals. On the one hand we have teachers, unions, parents and some academics arguing that smaller classes allow better teaching and learning; on the other are many policymakers, politicians and advisers, as well as some academics, who argue that class size is not important. Despite the Labour party pledge, my impression is that this latter perspective is gaining ground. As well as the OECD, the view is reflected in the influential Sutton Trust toolkit, and in a number of weighty reports by, among others, McKinsey & Company, the Grattan Institute, and the Brookings Institution.

How do we reconcile these two different approaches? Are teachers wrong and self-serving, as some commentators imply? To address this question we need to examine the evidence on the relationship between class size and pupil performance.

via The class sizes debate is tired, and asks the wrong questions | Peter Blatchford | Comment is free | The Guardian.

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