The Headteacher: Size really does matter in the classroom

Steve Woodhouse is the executive headteacher of Bishop Wilton CE Primary School
Steve Woodhouse is the executive headteacher of Bishop Wilton CE Primary School

Class sizes in the UK are bigger than those in most other developed nations, with schools focusing on teacher quality over the number of children in lessons, according to research.

A study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 25 pupils now share the average class in a UK primary school.

The OECD study placed the UK joint-fifth out of 33 countries. Class sizes in the UK were higher than the international average of 21 and above levels seen in countries such as Estonia, Greece, Luxembourg and Slovakia.

It also means that the UK effectively has bigger class sizes than many other international competitors such as Australia, France, Germany and the United States. Only China, with 38 pupils, Chile, Japan and Israel had bigger primary class sizes.

So, how does class size impact on children’s education? As a headteacher,

I have always tried to keep the number of children in a class as low as possible. I strongly believe that children learn better when there are less of them sharing the teacher’s time.

A class of 20 will have far more individual attention than one of 30 or more, it isn’t rocket science! A trained teacher’s time is precious and the more of it spent with your child, the better.

Relationships are key in any school. Children learn better when they have a secure bond with the adults they work with.

The mutual trust, respect, care and attention is vital and can only become stronger as adult and child learn more about each other.

These relationships are only possible in smaller classes when the teacher and teaching assistant really get to know each and every child.

It is very difficult to tailor lessons to meet the needs of every individual. Monitoring progress within a lesson is complex enough, and as the number of children increases, the job becomes harder.

I remember teaching 38 children in a Grimsby primary school and struggling to have enough time with the children.

Marking their work was often the first opportunity I had to spot any misconceptions, far too late to have a conversation with the child. In a smaller group, I would have been able to address the issue at the time and move learning forward more quickly.

Marking is another issue. A teacher simply cannot mark a class of 38 children’s books as thoroughly as they could with 20. The feedback is therefore less ‘in-depth’ and adds huge workload to the unfortunate teacher.

Unfortunately, in many primary schools, class sizes are on the increase.

The current housing developments in Pocklington and surrounding areas will inevitably add pressure to schools already feeling the strain.

The much publicised baby boom is due to affect our schools over the next few years and classes in the high 30’s are already starting to appear.

When you factor in the news that funding cuts are on the way, the future looks bleak.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, schools in England will have less to spend per pupil over the next five years, no matter who wins the election.

The think tank’s pre-election report, based on parties’ spending pledges, says schools face up to 12% in real-terms cuts over the next parliament.

Budget cuts mean staffing cuts and fewer teachers means larger class sizes, in my opinion, to the detriment of our children’s education.

Each of my schools currently show the positive effects of smaller class sizes. Beswick, for example, has six children in its infant class.

The progress the children are making is incredible: they have a teacher to themselves, they are bound to! I will always fight to keep smaller classes, as I know it makes a difference.

Private schools have always kept their numbers to a minimum and always achieve impressive results.

If we are to compete with other countries around the world, we need to protect our education budget and keep class sizes down, our children deserve it.