Saturday, April 17, 2010

Class wars

One of the few things that any of the three leaders said which contained any substance or policy was Nick Clegg's commitment to slash class sizes to 20 in primary and 16 in secondary school.

Of course it's nothing more than an "aspiration" - there's no indication of how this will be achieved, how it will be funded and where all these extra teachers are going to come from, but it sounds good on the telly.

The trouble is, it's an expensive policy which has little benefit.

When I was in primary school the average class size was close to 40 and there were no teaching assistants either - just the one teacher - yet none of us had any problems learning and nobody felt left or that they weren't getting the attention we needed. If we had a problem we put our hands up and the teacher would come and talk to us while the rest of the class got on with the work or waited their turn to be seen.

When I went on to grammar school the average class size plummeted - to around 35 - and the system was just the same. Throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies children learned in large classes without any problem.

In countries like India and China, children often start their education in classes of 60 - 80 with just a single teacher and they still manage to learn without a problem. The education system of both nations is very effective - they are churning out large numbers of highly skilled graduates with whom we are struggling to compete, but they don't need ever smaller class sizes.

The important factor in the classroom is not the size of the class - it is discipline. Teachers have lost control of the classrooms in Britain and this is why our education system is failing. They've lost control because successive governments have given children increasing "rights" while simultaneously stripping away the options available to teachers to enforce discipline - and these things have happened with the active participation and approval of the teaching profession.

Class sizes make little difference to the quality of learning children receive. It doesn't matter if you have a class size of 20, 10 or 1 - if the teacher has no control and the pupil has even a vague awareness of the "rights" they have (and few don't have this awareness these days) then the teacher will struggle to teach the kids anything.

Everybody over the age of 50 knows that it is perfectly possible to have effective learning in large classes. You don't need more teachers, smaller classes or fancy gadgets - you just need to have proper control and discipline and teach kids properly.

5 comments:

wonderfulforhisage said...

Spot on Stan, and don't forget streaming. Whilst probably not so significant as discipline it is certainly a factor IMHO.

James Higham said...

One of the few things that any of the three leaders said which contained any substance or policy was Nick Clegg's commitment to slash class sizes to 20 in primary and 16 in secondary school.

Of course it's nothing more than an "aspiration" - there's no indication of how this will be achieved, how it will be funded and where all these extra teachers are going to come from, but it sounds good on the telly.

It's absolute bollocks and all the more reason not to trust a bloody thing any of them say. Having been in education, this argument comes up every single election.

There ain't no way to reduce class sizes without taking on TAs. There's no taking on TAs with the current LEA systems of NVQs.

Money is going to the wrong places.

Malthebof said...

Stan this is the elephant in the room of teaching. The lack of discipline is the main reason for the fall in standards of education. I worked in a school (non teaching) inordinate amounts of money sre spent on 'disruptive' pupils to the detriment of average pupils. The children run the school they know all their rights (no responsibilities) the teachers have no sanctions, detentions are ignored, puils talk back & ignore teachers.
My solution, make education a privilege not a right, disruptive pupils sent home & become parental responsibility not taxpayers.

Natalie Anne said...

I'm actually across the Atlantic, but I know that a popular solution to the problem of low test scores (which is a sad way to denote that children aren't learning) in America is also to lower the class size. I think you make a great point about the increasing rights that students have versus the opportunities that teachers have to enforce the rules.
When students have no respect for any authority - what kind of future & what kind of government will that one day lead us to? (Ok, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic...)
Anyway, good insight, Stan.

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