Class size row as lecture-style plan replaces lessons

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The Independent Online

The Government was embroiled in a fresh dispute over secondary school class sizes yesterday after headteachers were asked to test a scheme to replace lessons with lectures.

The Government was embroiled in a fresh dispute over secondary school class sizes yesterday after headteachers were asked to test a scheme to replace lessons with lectures.

Groups of schools are being asked to volunteer to bid for up to £50,000 to run pilot schemes of lecture-style teaching from September. The large-group teaching in some lessons would free teachers to offer intensive teaching for classes of eight or nine in others.

Education action zones, set up by the Government to test radical new thinking in education, are being invited to test the initiative. The bidding document points to the success of the Government's pledge to reduce to 30 class sizes for pupils aged five, six and seven and argues that "smaller groups can be particularly effective for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds".

The document invites the zones to "see whether certain aspects of the curriculum for older pupils might be delivered by much larger 'lecture- style' approaches and by using information and computer technology, including electronic whiteboards.

"In this way, strategies could aim to balance smaller groups for some pupils with commensurate savings in terms of larger group sizes for some activities."

The issue of class sizes is highly sensitive for the Government, which made its pledge to reduce to 30 class sizes for pupils aged five, six and seven a plank of its election manifesto.

But a senior government source insisted the initiative did not affect general class size policy. He said: "We are not talking about primary schools. In secondary schools classes tend to vary enormously in size.

"Generally, this would be for older pupils who in a few years would be going to university, going to lectures and then breaking off into smaller groups.

"The whole purpose of education action zones is to look at new approaches. We are looking, particularly with newtechnology, at whether there are ways in which we can do things in new ways.

"We would hope that the Opposition would want to look at innovation rather than staying in the past."

Theresa May, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "It does look like double standards. Having proclaimed a policy of smaller class sizes they are now asking schools in education action zones to test large class sizes, contrary to the things they said in their manifesto.

"What parents are concerned about is how their children are taught. Parents will find it very strange if a government which has been talking about smaller class sizes produces larger class sizes for certain ages."

John Bangs, assistant general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "There's very little running in the idea of lecture-style groups or lecture-style lessons for older pupils.

"There's nothing wrong with a one-off lecture approach, but if the Government identifies smaller group sizes as having an impact on one group, we do not think they should build in a structure of larger class sizes."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the development would be worrying in mainstream secondary education. But he added: "In post-16 education, it would be possible to have a lecture in physics for 80 people, then have 15 in a class for practicals or other physics lessons."

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