Through the din, teachers learn to hope

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The Independent Online

Rajvinder Dhillon has 38 children in her class of eight- and nine-year- olds in Maulden Lower School, Bedfordshire. Qualified for just over a year, she has never had a class of under 30 even in her teaching practices.

A fit and energetic 23-year-old, she feels she can manage the class effectively because she has a full-time non-teaching assistant and many parents willing to help out.

"Without them I'd manage but I would suffer. The children wouldn't.

"You could have 40 or 50 in here and I would cope. I would not let it affect the children," she said.

Maulden Lower is a village primary with 146 four to nine-year-olds. It is a popular school which, in an ideal world, could do with one more classroom and one more teacher.

Rajvinder Dhillon's classroom is large and she is extremely effective at managing the class. But the teaching space is still cramped and some of the children bemoan the time it takes to get an answer to their questions or their maths corrected.

One of the pupils, eight-year-old Abigail Hazel, said: "People give you a headache when they all shout at once."

The school head, Mike Jarvis, said: "When I first started teaching in 1966 I had 44 in my class but we were working with groups then rather than with individuals.

"Now there are higher levels of monitoring and assessment and we teach other things such as information technology, personal and social education and citizenship.

"You can teach a class of 44 to read and write but can you teach them to love literature? Quality of teaching is obviously the key to education whatever the size of class but, if we are looking for genuine education rather than instruction, class sizes in their 20s are obviously preferable.

"In a large class you would tend to deliver the national curriculum to an adequate level. With smaller numbers a teacher can teach to a higher level across all areas of the curriculum.

"As a parent I would say I don't want my child just educated to an adequate level. Parents in the 1990s expect more."

Back in the class, some of the children have to crane their necks to see the picture of a dragon held up by their teacher. If noise levels rise she is quick to take control.

She manages to speak to every child every day but only because she makes herself accessible during breaks and most of her lunchtime.

"You just accommodate to it. They are not learning any less or any more. I know someone in Luton who is teaching a class of 43, some of whom don't speak much English, with no teaching assistant. I think we are actually very lucky."

She works from 8am till 5pm and does marking or preparation for about two or two and a half hours every night but Saturday.

"I can be marking and feeling really tired and then everything is better because I come across a story that makes me laugh or I'll find a page of maths work from a child who has been having difficulty and I'll think 'great, he's finally got it'. No matter how I feel or what kind of mood I am in, once I come in and see them all its wonderful again."

Mr Jarvis said: "Primary culture is an optimistic one and when you are young you think everything is possible though that class is a highly productive one and she has reached very high standards, I would much prefer her to have 25."