What is class size and why is it debated

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The term class size relates to the number of pupils in a given class taught by a teacher for all or the majority of his/her timetable (Wilson, 2002). Class size is a largely debated issue not only in the United Kingdom, but all over the world, with Blatchford et al (2008) declaring that "In many countries over the world there has been a hotly contested and widely reported debate over the educational consequences of class size differences" (p.1). This has been widely debated for several years, with researchers believing that reducing class size will improve a child's academic achievement; however some researchers find a negative effect on reducing class size relating to pupil attainment, whilst others find a positive relationship between smaller class sizes and pupils' educational progress (Jirjahn et al, 2009). Over the years, several studies have been conducted to find if there is indeed a relationship between small class sizes and pupil attainment.

Project STAR, Lasting Benefits Study and CSPAR project (392words)

Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) is a study which ran in Tennessee between 1985-1989, with 79 elementary schools throughout the state participating. Children were randomly put into three different classes in Kindergarten (age 4+) and stayed in these classes for four years. Teachers received no special instruction within the first year of the programme. Evaluators compared test scores of the students in each class with test scores of children in a class which had not been altered for the study. It was found that "The presence of Teacher Aides did not have a significant impact on academic achievement; true reduction in class size did" (Whitmore et al, 2001: 91). Further to this, it was found that ethnic minorities in particular benefited from smaller class sizes.

The Lasting Benefits Study, a follow up programme which continued to pursue the educational progress of between 4000 - 6000 STAR participants from 1990 - 1994, found that those who had been in smaller classes in lower school stages had a higher academic achievement over those who had been in larger classes. Whitmore et al (2001) cites that the study found that "students who spent three years in small classes, were on average 4.5 months ahead of their peers in Grade 4, 4.2 months in Grade 6 and 5.4 months in Grade 8" (p.91).

A similar, large-scale study, the Class Size and Pupil-Adult Ratio study (CSPAR), was carried out in the United Kingdom from 1996 - 2003, following pupils from the age of four to the age of eleven, finding that there was "a clear effect of class size on children's academic attainment over the first year of school (four/five years)..." (Blatchford, 2003a) results found from this study were comparable to those of the STAR project, including smaller class sizes are more effective in the early stages of schooling due to the idea that "many need training in paying attention, carrying out tasks and behaviour towards others in a working situation" (Whitmore et al, 2001; 92). This means that children need to learn how to behave when they first enter the classroom environment and this is easier for teachers to demonstrate with smaller classes rather than larger classes.

Other factors which were found to be positively influenced by smaller class sizes is student engagement, the individual attention students received from teachers as well as a decrease in the behaviour problems.

Pupils' academic achievement (429words)

The effect class size has on pupil achievement is the largest debated issue when discussing the topic of class size. While some researchers have found that reducing class size appears to have a large impact on pupil achievement, others have found that small class sizes have no significant effect on levels of pupil attainment (Borland et al, 2005).

Evidence found from the overseas STAR project found that a smaller class has a significant effect on pupil attainment levels, specifically in the early years, with the UK study, CSPAR, backing up these findings, reporting that as a class size increases, pupil attainment levels in literacy decrease. It was found that maths and reading in particular were positively affected by smaller classes, as "pupils in small classes performed significantly better than pupils in regular or regular with teaching aides..." (Wilson, 2002; 12).

In 2002, Blatchford et al published a UK study, Institute of Education Class Size Project, in which they investigated the effects of class size in the first year of primary school. Although this study was conducted in England, the results found are regarded as relevant to Scotland also (HeraldScotland, 2007). The aim of this longitudinal study was to show the effect that class size has on a child's academic achievement. The study followed children through the infant years of primary (i.e. 4-7 years of age) and consisted of two test within the first school year, pre and post entry to the reception year, both of which were completed by children as well as termly reports kept by the class teachers. The results from Class Size Project showed that with both maths and literacy, test scores increased as class size decreased when comparing test scores from the start of the reception year to the end of the year. Therefore, Blatchford (2002) states "These analyses have demonstrated a clear effect of class size difference on children's academic attainment over the reception year" (p. 181).

However, researchers on the other end of the spectrum who believe that class size does not affect pupil achievement argue that other confounding factors, such as a child's social background and gender must be taken into consideration when carrying out such an extensive study. (REFERENCE). In the Class Size Project carried out by Blatchford, background information was collected at the start of the school year, including previous nursery education, age, gender, social class, the fluency they speak English and any special needs the child may have. These were all taken into consideration when collecting test results to analyse the effects class size has on pupil attainment levels.

Students' academic engagement. (435 words)

The term "academic engagement" refers to the behaviours a student displays in relation to the learning process within a classroom. Examples of academic engagement include the time it takes to complete a task, effort and participation in classroom activities as well as concentration when participating in learning activities (Finn et al, 2003).

Student engagement is one issue brought up in literature when discussing the effects of class size. It would be sensible to assume that the more children in a class, the more potential there is for distraction and being off task, meaning that with less children in the class, teachers are more able to keep children engaged in a lesson and therefore, keep them on task. Finn et all (2003) state that "studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s demonstrated that paying attention and responding to teachers' directions were positively related to student achievement" (p. 323). This supports the idea that student engagement is increased within a smaller class size. Smaller classes ensure that there is less potential for distraction, keeping children on task, resulting in improved pupil attainment levels.

The afore mentioned CSPAR study not only investigated the effects class size had on pupil attainment levels, but a number of factors, one of which was the level of pupil academic engagement within the classroom. The results from this study showed that young children within the first years of schooling were twice as likely to be off task and disengaged with a lesson in larger classes. However, as the children moved up the school, the effect of the class size appeared to have no effect to pupil engagement (Blatchford, Bassett and Brown, 2005). This could be because in the early years children are taught how to behave and therefore in the later years of primary, are accustomed to certain behaviours and distractions within the classroom.

Despite studies showing that class size has a positive effect on student engagement, Wilson (2002) cites that "Research studies tend to report teachers' perceptions of the impact of small classes on pupils' attitudes and behaviour" (p. 36). It is also worth mentioning that it needs to be clear what is meant when saying that larger class sizes are a more likely distraction for children. It needs to be clear whether it is meant that this is "an externalizing form in the sense of overtly disruptive behaviours and 'mucking about', or second, a more internalizing form in the sense of being disengaged and distracted from work" (Blatchford, 2003b; 80). Therefore, it is important to note that pupil behaviour within the classroom may also affect children's educational progress within the primary school.

Pupil behaviour. (454 words)

The way a child behaves within a class can affect the educational progress of all children in the class environment. Common sense would suggest that positive behaviour is more easily enhanced within a smaller class setting as teachers have more time to spend on a one-to-one basis with children (Wilson, 2002). Smaller classes are more likely to be quieter and manageable. Blatchford, Bassett and Brown (2008) say that "a number of research studies have reported that pupil discipline tends to be more difficult in large classes and more of an intrusion into the teaching and learning process" (p. 6).

There have been many research findings that back up the claim that the size of a class affects the behaviour of the children, including the STAR project. The STAR project found that:

"small classes were quieter with fewer student interruptions and students in smaller classes showed more appreciation for one another, more desire to participate in activities and interacted more with each other" (Wilson, 2002; 29).

Children's behaviour was found to be significantly different within a smaller class compared to larger classes. Not only were children better behaved and less disruptive, they were more eager to participate in the class lesson and more willing to help their peers when required. Children are more focused within a small class due to less distractions and better teacher-pupil interaction.

It is not only better teacher-pupil interactions that promote positive behaviour within a small class, but also the proximity in which the children are seated. Larger student numbers per class means children are seated more closely and this makes it harder to separate disruptive pupils. Blatchford et al (2007) claim that "More arguments and less opportunity to physically separate disruptive individuals contribute to the problems of managing and controlling large classes" (p. 160). However, within a smaller class, these problems do not arise and if they do, there is more space within the class to move disruptive pupils, therefore, more time can be spent focusing on the learning and teaching process.

Despite the above findings, Wilson (2002) reports that these findings are not specifically found by researchers and are instead teacher perceptions of class sizes that are reported. However, this is a fair report, as teachers initially see the impact of a smaller class and can give an honest perception of whether or not it is beneficial to children. Parents are also concerned about larger classes, with Wilson (2002) finding that "some felt compelled to move their children, especially to the private sector, specifically because class sizes are usually smaller than those in state schools" (p. 29). Parents also felt larger classes were noisier and more disruptive, in turn affecting the quality of teaching and learning their child received.

Teaching methods. (615 words)

In order to make teaching and learning effective for children, teachers must ensure they consider each child's individual learning needs, use a variety of teaching and learning strategies to suit all learners and plan in advance to ensure a variety of resources and time is used effectively (Wilson, 2002). However, the effectiveness of teaching and learning is another factor which has been found to be affected by the number of children in a class.

The UK CSPAR study found that despite teachers in both small and large classes used whole class teaching and individual work the majority of the time, teacher-pupil interaction on a one-to-one basis was most likely to happen in a smaller class than the larger one. Within the small class environment, children were more likely to interact with their teacher in an active way, while children in the larger class appeared to 'switch-off' and were more lectured than included in the lesson (Blatchford, 2003a).

There are a number of reasons to explain why teaching was found to be more effective within the smaller class. First off, the way teachers themselves feel at work is an important factor to consider. Working with a smaller class puts less stress on the teacher as it is easier for them to cater for each child's individual needs, therefore their workload is smaller. Blatchford, Edmonds and Martin (2003) found that "in smaller classes it can be easier for teachers to spot problems and give feedback, identify specific needs and gear teaching to meet them, and set individual targets for pupils" (p. 3). Smaller classes also mean less marking for teachers, meaning teachers have more time to plan interactive lessons for children which meet the needs of all the children within the class.

Within the smaller class, relationships between the teacher and pupils are better, with teachers having more time for one-to-one interactions. It has been found that pupils in small classes are more often the focus of a teacher's attention and received one-to-one attention on a regular basis, which in turn affects a child's progress in the classroom (Blatchford, Bassett and Brown, 2008). If children are struggling with an aspect of a lesson, it is easier for teachers to deal with this when working with a smaller class as there is not as many children to manage and keep on track.

However, this is not the case for children in larger classes, where it has been found that children are not involved in active lessons as much as children in smaller classes. Instead, children are more talked to as "teachers in large classes were more formal and less personalized in their style of teaching and were forced to use different teaching methods to cope with pupils different abilities" (Blatchford et al, 2007; 165). Teaching is not as individualised in larger classes as there is a wide range of abilities in larger classes and it is more difficult for teachers to teach all these abilities at one given time, causing pupils to turn off if they either find the work too difficult or too easy. This in turn causes children to become distracted and more likely to misbehave.

Although the evidence suggests that teaching is more effective in smaller classes, it is important to note that "small classes will not make a bad teacher better" (Blatchford, Edmonds and Martin, 2003; 3). Smaller classes provide teachers the opportunities to be more creative in their teaching, making lessons more interactive and meeting the needs of each child on a regular basis. Teachers in larger classes are faced with the difficulty of having more children whose learning needs have to be met, which is not always possible in one given lesson

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