A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: Montesquieu on different educations
Previous entry: Education through rugby
Friday February 01 2008

Interesting news from the Evening Standard about class sizes:

The head of a city academy has called for pupils to be taught in supersize classes.

Frank Green, headteacher of Leigh Technology Academy in Dartford, has introduced the 60-strong classes, led by teams of three teachers, because he believes they are key to improving pupils’ behaviour and exam grades.

Leigh’s new £36 million building, which the academy has just moved into, has been designed with 12 rooms large enough to take the classes, which are at least double the size of those in most secondary schools.

Pupils are supposed to fare better if taught in smaller groups, according to conventional thinking.

Private schools promote their smaller class sizes as a major selling point and in state primaries, three-, four- and five-year-olds must, by law, be taught in groups no larger than 30.

But Mr Green insisted there was “considerable research evidence” that children learn well - particularly in technology-related subjects - in groups of 55 or 60, supported by three teachers and sometimes one or more classroom assistants.

He said the system also had advantages for managing classroom behaviour, explaining: “With the best will in the world, not every teacher is a brilliant classroom disciplinarian. When you’ve got three adults in the classroom, it makes it more difficult to behave badly.”

The large-class policy, which was introduced at Leigh for science three years ago, has now been expanded to cover English, maths, science and technology and is likely to extend to humanities and languages.

One reason why smaller class sizes have traditionally been preferred is, presumably, that you decrease the chance of a seriously warlike pupil being present, who brings any plans for actual education to a cacophonous and violent halt.  But if you have three times as many pupils and three times as many teachers that might change the rules in favour of the teachers.  Everything hinges on having lots of teachers as well as lots of pupils.

What are the chances of so many pupils being warriors that they can overwhelm, say, four teachers who are acting as a pack?  An alpha dog among the teacher pack (it only takes one!) will surely emerge in the heat of battle, and command the rest, and the teachers will win.  Also, the teachers will have other teachers to show off to, especially if they are mixed sex!  Also, if a teacher kills or badly wounds one of the warrior pupils, all the other teachers can testify that it was in self defence.  Even if it wasn’t.

The war between the teachers and the warrior pupils switches from a guerrilla war, in which the teachers are separated and picked off one by one and which the teachers are liable to lose, to a more conventional war on a bigger battlefield, which they are pretty much bound to win, and which if it does get nasty will be so violent that outsiders are liable to join in on the side of the teachers, instead of just moaning that each separate poor bloody loser teacher needs to learn better “classroom skills”.