Friday, September 11, 2009

Class sizes

There was a passing comment on the end of the Channel 2 news stating that the only net effect of smaller class sizes was more teachers. This is a bit of a bizarre statement.

There is no problem with bigger classes as long as you accept the following:
  • Classes must be fairly homogeneous - the is no way an average teacher can run 5 IEPs and manage students running a differentiated programme with 5+ levels of students effectively in a class of 30+ (and this is a likely requirement in a state high school with large class sizes)
  • Discipline must be more rigid - expect more suspensions, timeouts and exclusions
  • Intervention time per student is reduced - 30 students in a class + 15 mins instruction time per hour leaves a maximum of 2 minutes per student intervention/interaction time
  • Marking time is increased or assessment frequency is reduced
  • Decreased knowledge of individual students
  • Increased chance that at risk/abused/neglected students will not be identified
  • Additional needs students will need to be segregated out of the mainstream
  • More teacher assistants will be required to manage the learning programme
  • Reporting becomes more onerous
  • Higher rate of disengaged students - dropout rates will be higher / graduation rates lower
The net result is that more students will fall through the cracks in the system. If you check the high performing schools in WA, class sizes are smaller and for good reason. It works.

To say that class sizes need to increase is ignoring the specific needs of low SEI schools that require individual intervention plans to redirect students back into the mainstream, or for plans for students that need higher levels of intervention (students with parents on working visas, refugees, indigenous students, additional needs, ESL, limited schooling, truants, drug and alcohol dependents, abused, single parents).

To accept blanket statements 'bigger class sizes is better' is like saying education was better in the 60's. It is possible to have bigger class sizes if you accept that the compromises above are acceptable. Australia is a tolerant and respected nation where people from all backgrounds can succeed in life - the basis of this premise is fair education. To offer low SEI parents a sub-standard education compared to high performing schools is breaking a promise with the nation.

It's not a fair go.

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