Thursday, June 29, 2006

Teachers think size matters

From the Scotsman:
"The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the largest teaching union, will hold a ballot on industrial action in the autumn after ministers said they could make no further commitments on the issue before the Holyrood elections next May.

The coalition agreement struck between Labour and the Liberal Democrats after the last election committed the Executive to reducing primary one class sizes to 25 and maths and English classes in the first two years of secondary school to 20."
Pah! I'm not in the EiS anyway but I wouldn't vote for that. Apart from anything else, why would I want to go on strike to defend the idea that smaller class sizes are a Good Thing in English and maths - along with the 'practical' subjects that already have them - but not in history?

Don't get me wrong - all other things being equal, smaller classes are a Good Thing and I doubt there's a single teacher who wouldn't prefer to have them. But would smaller classes across the board 'raise attainment'? By nothing like as much as everyone seems to think it would. I've had plenty of classes of twenty or less. They're more manageable, and generally less smelly but if they have behavioural problems, are bone idle, or truant half the time, I'm not sure class size makes much difference. Primary schools, probably but Secondaries? Nah.

Classes reach a sort of critical mass where the size determines the sort of teaching you do. If you get around 25, any 'individualised learning' technique is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, so with brighter, better behaved classes, you might as well have 30+ for all the difference it makes. And if you wanted proper 'individualised learning' with differentiation for every kid, you'd need classes more like 12 or 15 rather than twenty. The implications of this for staffing would be enormous and that would be money wasted on an educational idea that is a load of hippy crap, if you ask me.

Streaming would be better. Smaller classes for those who for a variety of reasons need more teacher attention and bigger ones for the brighter kids and no need for any extra teachers. Sorted.

Oh and press-ups. We need a national discipline strategy based on press-ups, dammit.

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