Class size matters to those who struggle most

Feb 03, 2012

Research shows that class size does matter; and that it matters most for socio-economically disadvantaged learners, the very groups that the Government says it is most concerned about, says Massey University Professor of Education John O'Neill.

Professor O'Neill, a specialist in and the University's director of research ethics, describes the new proposal by Treasury to increase class sizes as "penny pinching" and at odds with what the Ministry of Education says it wants to achieve in New Zealand schools.

"Professor John Hattie’s media comments about being ‘less important’ have clearly been mis-interpreted by Treasury and Finance Minister Bill English as being ‘not at all important’," Professor O'Neill says. "It would be a grave mistake in my view for the New Zealand Ministry of Education to increase class sizes on the assumption that it will have no effect on other important aspects of teaching and learning.

"A review of class size research by England’s Professor Peter Blatchford makes the point that class size effects are 'multiple'. "It is not simply a case of looking at the correlation between class size and student outcomes, as Mr English’s briefing appears to have done. For example, both experimental and non-experimental studies have shown that for children at the beginning of schooling, there are significant potential gains in reading and maths in smaller classes.

"Children from ethnic minorities and children with the most ground to make up benefit most. New Zealand early literacy research in South Auckland schools has also shown that with poorly developed literacy need smaller classes in the early years in order to have the support they need to become confident readers. Increasing class size would therefore appear to be in direct conflict with the government’s ‘crusade’ around National Standards.

"Class size also affects what teachers and learners actually do in the classroom. Mr English’s comments suggest to me that he may have been very poorly briefed on what the class size research actually says.
Professor Blatchford’s own research showed that larger classes produced more and larger groups of learners within the class. This had negative effects on teaching, learning and learners’ concentration. In smaller classes, teachers were more likely to spend time with individual learners. This is exactly the kind of personalised learning approach that our Ministry of Education says it wants and which larger classes would seriously threaten.

"The ministry also wants its new ‘world-class’ curriculum implemented. The curriculum is all about social learning and children taking charge of their learning. Professor Blatchford’s research in England showed that in smaller classes children are more likely to be engaged in learning and less disruptive; in larger classes children are more likely to just passively listen to the teacher; in smaller classes children actively interact with the teacher about their learning. He concluded that smaller classes provide opportunities for teachers to teach better, while larger classes force teachers to make compromises with learners.

"This penny-pinching proposal worries me. The Government cannot claim on one hand to be committed to meeting the needs of disadvantaged learners, improving the achievement of Maori and Pasifika students, raising national standards and to providing 21st century and, on the other hand, take steps that materially undermine each and every one of those commitments. If we follow Treasury’s logic we might just as well go back to the early 1800s and drill children in classes of five hundred using sand trays and monitors. That would be cheaper still."

Explore further: Texas OKs most new history textbooks amid outcry

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Overcoming boredom

Sep 01, 2011

“I’m bored.” It’s a line that parents likely hear throughout the year. But, as students prepare to head back to classes for the start of a new school year, one University of Alberta researcher says these ...

E-learning must synch or sink

Jan 30, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- According to one University of Alberta researcher, people looking to further their education through e-learning may want to look carefully at the conditions under which online coursework will ...

For English learners, reading isn't always

Apr 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- An influential model for teaching reading and comprehension to English learners doesn’t work well for Cantonese-speaking children, according to new research from the University of California, Davis, ...

Research shows phonics not always the best reading tonic

Jul 04, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Ground-breaking research in learning has found that children are primarily geared towards learning to read through storing words in the brain, and that phonics, used for “sounding out” words, ...

Parents have nothing to fear from fast-tracking kids

Dec 01, 2011

A major national study has found that parents and teachers of gifted children are generally supportive of academic acceleration but continue to have concerns about the emotional impact of fast-tracking education.

Small classes give extra boost to low-achieving students

Oct 14, 2009

Small classes in early grades improve test scores in later grades for students of all achievement levels, but low achievers get an extra boost. That's the finding of a study on the long-term effects of class size in the November ...

Recommended for you

Study identifies why re-educating torturers may not work

Nov 21, 2014

Many human rights educators assume – incorrectly, as it turns out – that police and military officers in India who support the torture of suspects do so because they are either immoral or ignorant. This ...

Research helps raise awareness of human trafficking

Nov 21, 2014

Human trafficking –– or the control, ownership and sale of another human being for monetary gain –– was a common occurrence centuries ago, but many believe it doesn't exist in this day and age and not in this country.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.