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Why small classes have a positive impact on pupils (and teachers)

Reducing class sizes is considered to be an expensive approach to managing the ratio between pupils and teachers. But is it worth it? Well, this will depend on the approach of the school.

 

What matters is that classes need to be small enough to permit the teacher to change their teaching approach. Research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that class sizes below 20 pupils give the best results.

 

This is likely to be because teachers are able to have higher quality interactions with pupils and there is a higher level of focus because there are fewer disruptions. They also note that quality teaching in small classes is likely to lead to a change in the pupils’ learning behaviours, which in turn leads to better attainment, as well as improvements in behaviour and attitudes.

 

Research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that during the primary school years, children get the most benefit from being in a small class. In their key findings on ‘Reducing Class Sizes’ they note that reducing class sizes has a positive impact of +2months each year, but because there is limited evidence in this area, it should be treated with caution.

 

At primary school age, children are still developing the independent learning skills and self-discipline that they will need in secondary school. In secondary school they will be taught in a bigger group environment. Small classes provide the maximum learning boost and guidance to develop learning habits to equip them with the tools for secondary school.

 

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/reducing-class-size

 

Reasons why small classes at Borrowdale School benefit our pupils:

 

  • Pupils receive more one-to-one time with the teacher, and no child gets lost in the middle. The more able children get the challenge they need. Nobody is allowed to ‘coast along’. All children get the support they need to succeed. Every child builds a quality, personal relationship with their teacher. 
  • With fewer pupils to get round, teachers at our school are able to give instant feedback on every child’s learning in the lesson. This means that misconceptions are quickly spotted and corrected.
  • It’s more fun. For instance, getting out and about is easy. With two minibuses, we can take two classes on visits on the same day! This means that we can take advantage of all learning opportunities outside the classroom. Teachers are able to be creative and adventurous in their ideas, and nothing is impossible.
  • Children learn at different rates and learning is seldom linear. Spurts and dips in performance are normal for people; children’s learning included. This could be because of the way they are developing or because other life issues are having an impact. Small classes provide children with stability and safety when pupils are feeling overwhelmed by personal problems outside school. Teachers can judge what’s going on and respond in a measured and appropriate way.
  • Teachers can fine-tune teaching to unlock children’s motivation. They don’t plan on the basis that there will always be three groups of children: below average, average and above average. All children deserve to be stretched to achieve their potential, whether their strengths are academic, sports, arts or drama.
  • Small classes have a more relaxed atmosphere, which benefits the quieter and less motivated child and the confident and extrovert child. In a small class it’s really obvious when a child is not participating and this is a good incentive for pupils to pay attention. When a child doesn’t contribute the reason is often self-belief rather than disinterest. In a relaxed atmosphere, the teacher can bring all children into group discussions. For the confident child, the close collaboration of the small class also has benefits. They learn to be respectful, tolerant and patient; useful skills for the future workplace
  • We often hear parents comment on how well we know their children. This is simply down to the amount of individual attention every child receives and our active involvement with them each day.
  • Teachers are able to teach. In large classes, the actual teaching can become sidelined for all the admin, organisation and other non-teaching tasks (marking, photocopying, etc.) take priority. This means teachers are enjoying their job and are happy at work.

 

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Further Insights:

Why quality learning can't be confined to classrooms

Why small classes have a positive impact on pupils (and teachers)

Why IT access in schools should be better than the children have at home

 

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