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Friday, January 14, 2005


Tough choices

Still not a word from Charles Kennedy in defence of the right to freedom of expression, in the light of the recent Jerry Springer and Behzti cases.

However, today he has
announced that the Liberal Democrats would scrap the government's new child trust funds and use the money to cut class sizes.

This is a populist gesture unlikely, in itself, to improve the quality of education. A study published only last week challenged conventional wisdom by showing that smaller class sizes do not produce better results from children at primary school. A
report of this study in the Times (6 January) noted:

Levels of literacy among children aged 11 in classes of fewer than 25 pupils were lower than those who were in groups of more than 30 children.

Academics at London University’s Institute of Education, who carried out the research, also concluded: "No evidence was found that children in smaller classes made more progress in mathematics, English or science."

Family poverty had the biggest effect on results. Children who were eligible for free school meals fell further behind in English and maths as they progressed through school.
A report in the Scotsman (6 January) added that

... teachers who took part in the survey insisted that their job was made much easier if class sizes were smaller.
At Liberator's fringe meeting at last September's Liberal Democrat conference, David Boyle queried the obsession with class size and asked why we did not instead question the size of schools.

The answers can be found in the survey results. First, the greatest determinant of educational success is parental wealth, and few politicians have the balls to confront the issue of poverty.

And second, the main pressure for smaller class sizes is coming from the teaching lobby.

Despite this, Charles Kennedy insists his class size policy is one of the "tough choices" that are needed when it comes to allocating government funds.

"Tough choices mean looking carefully at the money being spent on our children and choosing to spend it more effectively, rather than wasting it."

Research has shown that 25 is an optimum number for a class.
What 'research'?
A study of class size effects in English school reception year classes by Peter Blatchford Harvey Goldstein Clare Martin and William Browne Institute of Education University of London for example, found that "There are other indications in our study that 25 may be an important number of children, below which relationships with classroom processes, such as the number and size of within class groups, become most evident (Blatchford, Baines, Kutnick and Martin, 2001)." I have other references in the office.
Thanks! Interesting that this earlier research is from the same source as last week's.

It remains significant that the Liberal Democrats shy away from discussing the twin scandals of poverty and public school privilege.

Still, mustn't offend the Daily Mail!
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