When Peter Blatchford and I reviewed the research on the topic for the National Commission for Education we found that, despite a widespread belief that pupils learn more effectively in small classes, the evidence was equivocal. The strongest evidence in support of small classes, found in an American experimental study, suggests that it is the youngest pupils who have the most to gain from any reduction in numbers. Paradoxically, in schools in the United Kingdom (except for Scotland) primary classes are usually considerably larger than their secondary counterparts. We also found that reducing the size of classes without altering the style of teaching made little difference to pupils' achievement.
Given the public interest and importance of this topic, it is sensible for Department for Education officials to reflect on what does influence learning in classrooms. School governing bodies of lay people need advice.
Surely, therefore, it is time for a British experimental study on the vexed question of class size to be commissioned so that thinking and policy formulation can be underpinned by some hard evidence.
Institute of Education
University of London
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