School money and class sizes

All UK parties have been keen to get class sizes down in state schools. Yesterday Labour decided to make an issue of this, forgetting that class sizes have risen quite a lot in Wales where they are in government. I was interested to hear one of their spokesmen defend this by pointing out satisfaction with schools in Wales had gone up at the same time as class sizes. He was then at a loss to answer the obvious sequel – if parents and pupils think things are getting better, why did class size worry him?

I am all in favour of decent funding for schools, and have been asking for more money for Wokingham and West Berkshire schools where  budgets are tight. I have been asking b0th for more in total to schools, and more as a proportion of the budget to areas like Wokingham that have traditionally been given much less than the best funded. I would, however, be interested in your thoughts on class size.

It seems to me there are obvious occasions when individual pupils need individual help. That requires a good staffing ratio., There are also occasions when a good teacher or outside speaker or lecturer has something interesting and important to say when you can open the lesson or lecture up to many more pupils, as many more can benefit from it. Class size is an average figure which can conceal as well as reveal. Some star teachers and star lessons are so good that they are recorded and used in a wide range of ways by many students. On line learning is both one to one and one to many.

The  best judge of how many teachers a school needs should be the School Bo0ard and management team led by the Head. There need to be sufficient teachers for those things that need teaching in small groups or require individual attention. There can also be other times of day and topics that can be covered in larger groups. In practice schools experiment with smaller and larger groups depending on subject and age range of pupils, and often have more than one adult in the classroom so individual pupils can have individual attention as well as more general group or whole class work proceeding. The number of teachers in a secondary school is also affected by how many subject options the school  wishes to offer. The number of subjects varies considerably between schools.




  1. Lifelogic
    April 22, 2017

    The class sizes at my primary shool, back in the sixties was around 44. The school had good discipline and I never remember this creating any problems they even managed to get me through the eleven plus when I was far, far more interest in playing football and cricket.

    The new technology, education software and videos can also assist in allowing teachers and teaching assistants to be far more efficient. This should apply even more so at secondary shools and universities where students need to be self motivated and video lectures and software could be used to educate thousands of students efficiently and very cheaply indeed. Encourage private and par private schools that respond to the needs paying of parents. Give vouchers and choice to parents.

    1. Lifelogic
      April 22, 2017

      What damages education hugely is all the red tape, regulation and top down central control of education from government, LEA’s that teachers have to put up with. It also makes the profession far less attractive to some excellent potential teachers.

      Also the inability to fire useless teachers and the inability to exclude seriously disruptive students. Freedom of choice for the schools and the especially the parents is what is needed.

    2. Kriss
      April 23, 2017

      If you look at the standards achieved in the sixties, you will see that a lot more is expected at a much younger age now.
      There is always the argument that you succeeded regardless, those that couldnt achieve their potential won’t be responding!

    3. Louise Holloway
      April 23, 2017

      Gosh imagine marking 44 English books daily with your 3 coloured pens across 6 different criterias with a point for development for each child too! Then taking the successful points and putting them on an assessment grid to show they have made progress. That’s the first lesson now to mark the maths for 44! And don’t forget the planning to ensure every child makes progress – the one who you know should be in a special school and the three that arrived last week with no English! And don’t forget the child who social services are ignoring and is currently disrupting the other 43 children in the class. Sorry a reply from yet another teacher who has left the profession early ? Would love to know how they managed in 50s and 60s as I know teachers got home by 4pm too!! At least I get to see my family now.

      1. Pragmatist
        April 24, 2017

        Good point. Both my parents and two of my siblings were teachers. I’ve seen how the work they do out of hours is neither appreciated nor paid. This has increased over the years.

  2. formula57
    April 22, 2017

    As the weather is to farmers, so class size is to the teaching profession – never right, usually too much.

    The demand for smaller classes I suspect is a forlorn effort to overcome the unscholarly behaviour of the modern student.

  3. Lifelogic
    April 22, 2017

    Why is Philip Hammon trying to loose this election by suggesting higher VAT and ratting on the triple lock. There is no need. Taxes are far, far too high already often well above the Laffer point. NI 23% combined, income tax up to 45%, stamp duty to 15%, CGT 28%, IPT 12%, Corpoation tax 20% fuel duty, motorist muggings, VED, council tax, business council tax, alcohol duty, fines for everything, landfill taxes, carbon taxes ……………….. then 40% on assets on death too.

    Just cut all the waste, the green crap subsidies, the payment to the feckless, HS2, Hinkley C, cut the state and encourage private provision in education and health care. Hammond should go and now. He is a puppet of the treasury and the bloated over paid state. He is no Conservative. He still thinks the state is the answer when it is clearly the problem.

  4. Mike Stallard
    April 22, 2017

    Politicians see things as money related. In a way, of course, they are right.
    Then there is the fact that the gossip of one girl can get any man she chooses suspended for a year and banned from any clubs and societies – even Church – before the trial and acquittal. Career ruined.
    Or the fact that a lot of classrooms are chaotic. No back-up. No discipline. No peace and quiet. No tradition of competitiion or learning. Headmistress a “manager”, not a visionary.
    So a lot of the best teachers (especially the men) are missing. So untrained women teachers are put in to “learn on the job”.
    Add in the insistence on every pupil going to University and getting as many exams as possible (my grand daughter is sitting 11 GSEs and her friend 16!) and you have the recipe for lots of unwanted boys and girls who are virtually illiterate, who refuse to do manual work and who sit at home smoking the occasional weed ready for a life on the dole.
    Oh – I nearly forgot – many of them are victims too – dyslexic and ADHD (after Dad leaves) and Attention Deficit Disorder. And a lot are used to being drugged up on Ritalin too. So there is no hope of improvement.

    Deal with that instead of discussing class sizes!

    1. Lifelogic
      April 23, 2017

      Much truth in that!

  5. fedupsoutherner
    April 22, 2017

    I’ve just been rudely awakened by the telephone and the news that Trump is going to put the EU before the UK over trade. Naturally Farron is purring like a Cheshire cat as if this is good news for us! Can you clarify John please?

    Reply It’s not true

    1. fedupsoutherner
      April 23, 2017

      Reply to reply

      Thanks John and thank goodness for that!!

  6. Lifelogic
    April 22, 2017

    What Hammond is saying is that Tory manifesto promises are worthless. They will be disgarded at will. We are a party of big government and high tax, we like borrowing, greencrap and pissing tax payers money down the drain, we want ever more regulaton, more employment regulation and central wage controls. We like the dire state monopoly in health and Education.

    The Sun’s front page today is spot on.

  7. eeyore
    April 22, 2017

    A few weeks ago two businessmen independently mentioned to me that youngsters they interviewed for positions had not heard of Sir Winston Churchill. It made me wonder about the education that Britain offers.

    I suppose we’ve all experienced and regretfully discounted inadequate literacy in the young. After all, spelling and grammar are not of the essence so long as meaning is plain. But I’ve also heard accounts of mathematical skills so feeble that youngsters literally can’t work out the change in a shop. And as for percentages . . .

    All this is merely anecdotal. Teachers and young people often assert that education in British schools is better than it’s ever been – especially, no doubt, when classes might number 40 and above as in the 1950s, and individual tuition was unknown. Are they right?

  8. Iain Gill
    April 22, 2017

    My view, since you ask, is that buying power in the relationship with schools should be handed over to parents. With buying power parents could balance a lot of things including class size. The current way class size is restricted for key stage one is a disaster, leading to some kids being without any school for long periods, traveling very long distances (sometimes with seriously ill parents having to walk them), to supposedly protect those already with a place. Those let down the most are those who move house and are put to the back of the queue, we need workforce mobility but those moving end up with the worst school in town.

  9. Deborah
    April 22, 2017

    Large class sizes are less of a problem if children are of similar ability so they can all work on similar things at the same time. The difficulties start when the levels the teacher has to juggle are too varied and so they have insufficient time to work individually with all the “outlier” students – both bright and struggling.
    My grammar school classes had well over 30 students, but we were all relatively bright. The teacher could do most of the work on a whole class basis and then help those with most difficulties whilst the rest of us helped each other. Competition between the brightest students kept them engaged and needing minimal input.
    Large class sizes do become a real problem when the teacher has to deal with many children who do not speak english. I experienced this from the opposite side when my children attended private schools abroad. When too many children do not understand the basic instructions, teaching becomes first and foremost an exercise in crowd control.

    1. Hilary McAdam
      April 23, 2017

      Absolutely right!
      My class of 39 Y3s and 4s (so7-9yrs old) had children working at 5 different levels in Maths and English. So 5 sets of work to plan, prepare and print out for each lesson every day. Plus individual work for 4-5 Special Needs children working outside those levels. Compounded by having to teach Y3 and Y4 two different things within the one lesson (doubling workload instantly, regardless of differentiated levels). Aroun 5 hours per day preparation for 2 hours worth actual teaching.
      Near killed me. I got out when my health broke under the strain of working 17 hours 6 days a week.

  10. Simon
    April 22, 2017

    The number of pupils said to be in over large classes in exactly equal to the increase in the number of the children of migrants since 2008. These two matters are closely related. A fact which Compo Corbyn and many Conservatives are reluctant to even acknowledge. Furthermore a return to proper class sizes will now require an increase in infrastructure / classrooms in schools and critically more teachers.

    The practice of schools employing interpreters at the tax payers expense should be prohibited. Far from assisting it inhibits a child’s integration and learning.

    The entire special needs statement system is an abuse by which schools (a) disguise poor teaching and (b) over statement in order to acquire further funding. Both these consequences are utterly iniquitous. It is a further unnecessary drain on the public finances. (mainly borrowed).

    Finally as you say they are huge opportunities now for many lessons to be either taken from online resources or pre recorded and reused from a school resource library.

    Furthermore the vast scam of multiple exam boards then selling extortionately expensive text books to schools and / or pupils needs radical reform. For many course eg maths, the Government could commission entire online learning packages, including multiple choice online self test / self marking facilities – easing teachers burdens – or they could block subscribe to the excellent commercial facilities available eg IXL, or the free / charity services like Exam Solutions.

    The days of the “teacher” as being the primary holder and distributor of basic information should now be over. It contributes to the infantalising of children particularly teenagers and is absurdly out of step with modern notions of learning and the efficient use of resources.

    Just my 2 cents as usual.

  11. Graham
    April 22, 2017

    I gather then, from the lack of mention, that the class sizes don’t seem to be impacted by the number of imported kids who take up a disproportionate amount of resource allocation.

    Learn something every day!!!

    1. APL
      April 23, 2017

      Graham: “imported kids who take up a disproportionate amount of resource allocation.”

      Who frequently have to be taught remedial English or, expensive bilingual / multilingual teachers have to be employed.

      That’s not going to impose additional costs on the State.

  12. A.Sedgwick
    April 22, 2017

    The resurrection of the Grammar School debate by Mrs. May is a mistake, but at least if it is in the manifesto there can be no argument about her pushing a whim without a mandate. It is not a vote winner, but not as bad as keeping 0.7% foreign aid = elitism 1 public at large 0.

    I am out of touch but I have the feeling schools education is not assessing pupils needs, attributes, interests and embracing technology, computerisation as much as possible e.g. wasting resources on persuading young people to study history/art/geography when they prefer to take a motorbike engine to bits.

    You rightly highlight the need for flexibility in teaching methods, class sizes should be less important than streaming pupils into a curriculum that best suits their interests and abilities.

  13. Dave Andrews
    April 22, 2017

    Rather than class size, it’s the conditions in the classroom that are of concern. Newly qualified teachers often don’t last long when faced with poor discipline and lack of control. If they have a passion for teaching, that will soon be sapped away by the weight of bureaucracy.
    We don’t just need smaller class sizes, we also need qualified teachers rather than TAs leading the class.

  14. Richard1
    April 22, 2017

    What matters is quality of teaching. Better to be with a good teacher in a class of 35 than a bad one with a class of 15. As ever Corbyn and Labour focus on regulations and central dictats and not on the one thing that would really boost quality of teaching and therefore childrens’ life chances – choice and competition.

  15. Beecee
    April 22, 2017

    Perhaps it is time to re-emphasise the pay deal negotiated by the teachers union.

    I understand that a teacher moves through their pay grade in 5 years which means annual pay increases of 7% to 8%. Extra responsibilities or such-like then moves a teacher to the next pay grade level and the process begins again.

    When a pay deal of c 2% is announced then that inflates the start and end point of each grade and I assume is also what a teacher ‘stuck’ on a grade maximum will get.

    It is not difficult to see why an above inflation funding for schools is insufficient.

    Unless I am wrong?

    1. Martyn G
      April 23, 2017

      Not quite correct as there is no automatic salary increase for a teacher. I chair the school Pay Committee and can assure you that careful consideration is given to awarding a teacher a salary increase, which is based on merit and the head teacher’s advice and recommendation.
      The salary spine points are set out in the ‘Teacher’s Pay and Conditions’ document issued annually after approval by government and teaching unions.

  16. Narrow Shoulders
    April 22, 2017

    You are correct when you assert that some classes are taught to greater numbers of pupils. Universities lecture many more than 30 students at a time but these are students who are expected to self study, they also get one to one tutorials to supplement classroom learning.

    30 is probably too many for mixed ability classes, the teacher can not possibly attend to the needs of each pupil so many will miss out. It is not a coincidence that booster schools to improve results operate much smaller class numbers.

    I do hope that you are not softening us up for increased class sizes. That is not acceptable. Address the increasing number of students and teachers’ pensions which are the root cause of funding issues in education.

    Your government and the coalition shovelled loads of money into schools (some of it wasted by the free schools dogma) but immigration and teachers’ pension pot top ups have hoovered up the additional money.

    You can not mention class sizes without mentioning immigration. It is disingenuous.

  17. Antisthenes
    April 22, 2017

    The left always couch their arguments in the most simplistic way which equates to nothing more than rhetoric without substance. They do so because the complexity and understanding of the subject under discussion escapes their closed and simple minds and they know it will be popular to those voters who are less discerning or share their ideology or appeals to their envious nature. Also because refutation of their simplistic arguments requires complex laden responses that few want because they either pass their understanding or contain unpalatable truths. They push for state control of education not because it is good for pupils and students but because it maximises the benefits for the teaching profession.

    The left have a simplistic answer for everything all based on socialising every aspect of our lives. None of which to date have resulted in a remotely satisfactory result. In fact they tend toward the counterproductive and harming those that they intended to help the most.

    1. Janet
      April 23, 2017

      Education shouldn’t be used as a political football, children deserve better.

      It’s nothing to do with ‘the left’. We are following an American model of education and, having worked there in the 80’s I really don’t think this will raise standards for all.

  18. David Terron
    April 22, 2017

    even the BBC have said Labour are wrong: The claim: Speaking in Swindon, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Half a million children are now being taught in super-size classes of over 36.”
    Reality Check verdict: This is incorrect. Actually about 42,000 pupils are in classes of 36 or more – about 1% of children. Mr Corbyn appears to be confusing statistics.

    1. Lifelogic
      April 22, 2017

      Well Corbyn is a lefty politics of envy, ever larger state, politician so they never let facts get in the way of an appeal to the its not fair emotions.

      Mind you Cameron and Osborne (yet more lefty politicians) kept saying they were repaying the debt! May & Hammond seem to be almost as bad so far.

      What fool of a politicians says he is going might increase VAT and get rid of the triple lock on pensions during an election campaign?

      1. Lifelogic
        April 22, 2017

        Cornwall council to spend 500k on bid for eu capital of culture! So they clearly have money to burn!

    2. Hope
      April 22, 2017

      How many do not speak English and what sums of money are being spent on this instead of education?

      1. Janet
        April 23, 2017

        Why is this an issue? If your job was moved to India, or other non English speaking county, tomorrow, would you not wish for extra support for your child?

        1. Deborah Clark
          April 24, 2017

          Perhaps… but I would not expect the state (i.e. other taxpayers) to pay for it.

          You ask “Why is this an issue”?
          …because when a significant number of pupils do not speak the language, a huge amount of class time is wasted keeping control of the children who don’t understand what is going on.

          1. Hope
            April 25, 2017

            It is an issue. My child works in the US, he has to pay for health care and pays federal and state taxes for other public services. Unlike here where all public services are free even if it costs extra money for those who do not speak the language. Look at the huge amounts of taxes used to translate other languages for public services! This is not diversity at all. It is a scam on the taxpayer to fund services for the world population. I had an apointment from the NHS The Who,e of the backsheet wa used for other languages if needed! This must cost a fortune in itself for printing ink! Janet, you clearly need to consider the costs: we simply cannot afford this extra demand on our services. The govt continues to build its deficit and debt and, moreover failing public services.

  19. ian wragg
    April 22, 2017

    O/T what a spectacular own goal. Within days of calling an election Mrs. May decides to alienate 2 rather large swathes of potential supporters.
    Pensioners by failing to protect the triple lock ( whether this has merit or not), whilst proclaiming we are going to continue wasting £billions on corrupt regimes through overseas aid.
    Methinks the lady is trying to lose the election too derail the Brexit process which she probably doesn’t believe in anyway.
    I really had hopes for some solid Tory manifesto pledges, not more Cameron/Osborne virtue signalling.

  20. Bert Young
    April 22, 2017

    Class size is important and has a lot to do with development and achievement . In the school where I was the Headmaster for 7 years I kept the numbers to 25 . Prior to my arrival there was little , or no , control over numbers and no streaming according to ability . The range of native ability , achievement and parental influence in a class of 25 is surprisingly considerable ; they influence the methods used in the teaching approach , response capability and the ultimate results .

    Above all are the skills and motivation of the teachers . A good teacher can create an atmosphere of enthusiasm and interest ; children respond to this and the results show . Every child in my school was assessed for their IQ , Arithmetical , Reading and Comprehension level ; according to the results the classes were streamed into 3 levels and the approach to their learning skills adjusted . There was an active Parent/Teacher Association ; it maintained a co-operation with the home and explained all objectives .

    By the time I left , the school was considered to be “Excellent with a high level of achievement “. There have been many changes made to the Education system and to the level and competence of Teacher training . The profession is not what it used to be and , sadly , no longer attracts ” the best “.

  21. NHSGP
    April 22, 2017

    More spending eh.

    Perhaps that’s why Hammond announced yesterday that the Conservatives will become the party of more taxation.

    1. formula57
      April 22, 2017

      What limits are there to the damage Mr. Hammond can inflict upon his party?

    2. Hope
      April 22, 2017

      And overseas aid continues to soar and May continues the stupidity! Our taxes. How many sub headings in our community charge bills as add ons when these form the normal part of their service and budgets! Adult social care. Ow an add on yet we are still expected to sell our homes to pay for our own care as well !

    3. Lifelogic
      April 22, 2017

      Indeed. Higher tax rates will produce a smaller tax base, low tax revenue and far fewer real and productive jobs. But Theresa Miliband and Philip “national insurance ratter” Hammond are clearly socialists in essence.

    4. Narrow Shoulders
      April 23, 2017

      Taxed have already risen this parliament. The upper earnings limit for NI increased this month by £2K handing a £200 per year bill to anyone earning over £45K.

      Where was the outcry?

      Can I have my “universal” child benefit back next parliament or will it only be available to low paid immigrants to send out of the country?

  22. fedupsoutherner
    April 22, 2017

    When I was in Junior and Senior school our class had 41 and 39 pupils respectively. We all sat down and did the same things at the same time and as far as I can see none of us did badly from it. Many schools now take the approach that different tables in the same room do different things and it results in mayhem in many cases. A supply teacher I know says she finds it hard to concentrate when everyone is doing different things and shouting out. If the teacher is interesting and teaches in a way that holds the attention of the class then size isn’t such an issue. There is too much disruption allowed in class today and no discipline. Mobile phones should be banned from the class room. Why does a pupil need a phone during a lesson? More money may be needed for some schools so why then is Mrs May going to continue giving money out to foreign aid? Something is wrong when money is needed at home but is being sent abroad first. We should get our priorities right.

  23. libertarian
    April 22, 2017

    Class sizes are a myth

    There is no evidence showing that smaller class sizes are more effective. Private schools with excellent results have class sizes similar sized to state comprehensives

    The problem with our schools are these

    The focus on GCSE’s by DoE is wrong

    The curriculum is out of date and ineffective for 21st century world

    Digital Technology is not taught in UK schools ( other countries laugh at us about this )

    Of course the problem is actually the same as every other public sector failure
    Trying to micro manage top down one size fits all covering the entire country from a centralised bureaucracy . The focus on sending everyone to university is misguided and wrong. We need vocational training

    There is a vanishingly easy way to run schools…. Everyone gets a school place voucher to pick a school of their choice and individual schools offer a curriculum or focus to attract pupils and manage themselves

    You are supposed to be a Conservative Government yet you have socialist actions… including the revelation that this election has been called so that Hammond can punish small business further with Tax rises

    1. Iain Gill
      April 22, 2017

      Yes buying power in parents hands is the only way to fix things.

      1. Lifelogic
        April 23, 2017

        Exactly, the same for the NHS!

    2. Jerry
      April 22, 2017

      @libertarian; “You are supposed to be a Conservative Government yet you have socialist actions…”

      By that rational Walter, our greatest Prime Minister, one Sir Winston Churchill, was a Socialist -perhaps he was?…

      1. libertarian
        April 23, 2017


        I think you’ll find Winston was a Liberal Jezza

        1. Jerry
          April 25, 2017

          @libertarian; Missing the point once again Walter.

          Sir Winston Churchill was a Conservative when Prime Minister during and after WW2, and the popular vote thought so too. The fact that you think he was still a Liberal tells us nothing what so ever about Churchill or the electorate of the day, although it does tell us a lot about how you define what Conservatism should be today.

  24. Big is better
    April 22, 2017

    None of us prayed to God for it. We didn’t believe, then. But we kids hoped to Whatever we had a very big class due to a teacher being off . The teacher covering, had two classes in one. He couldn’t keep an eye on us then. We would only get beaten with a plimsoll ) or a garden cane for what he judged individual badnesses such as whispering to your neighbour, bad hand-writing, getting stuff wrong,. We only had to tolerate the one mass beating by plimsoll on our bent over buttocks at the start of class ” to warm us up”
    So, on balance, and in the honourable historic values of British Education, Big is better in regard to class. Size does matter.

  25. Chris S
    April 22, 2017

    This is an interesting topic. When I was at school in the 1950’s we had class sizes of 40 and in maths had to cope with pre-decimalisation money, something that would cause today’s youngsters real problems. We learned in a far more disciplined manner similar to that still employed in Asia where results are now far better than ours.

    My own children were never properly taught their times tables and that has made them far less agile with mental arithmetic.

    I certainly would not leave class sizing to Head teachers. As a former school governor I know that the outcome would just be a never-ending outcry for yet more money to reduce class sizes till they were reduced down to 15 or 20.

    I can’t see any reason why infant and the earl years of junior schooling need to be much different to our day. Kids need to leave with a thorough grounding in English and maths. Everything else is a nice to have but not essential.

    I’m not sure when trendy liberals and labourites took over the educational establishment but they have caused immense damage over recent decades. Schooling is now riddled from top to bottom with them and no Conservative Government will satisfy them s why bother to try ?

    Mrs May is right to bring in more grammar schools. The idea that their loss is not responsible for decreasing social mobility is a coincidence too far. More a case of the researchers setting out to prove the case against grammars rather than a genuine attempt at establishing the truth.

  26. acorn
    April 22, 2017

    BTW. If you want a brief demonstration of how the government tells you lies, have a read of

    Particularly, Table 1.1 . See how the headline “budget deficit” (Public Sector Net Borrowing) is coming down. Then see the full year Public Sector Net Cash Requirement has shot up; and the PSND (Public Sector Net Debt), has gone up with it.

    This is Osborne austerity in action. Brexit has made it a bit worse mind you with imported inflation.

  27. Dictator
    April 22, 2017

    Like nurses and doctors we think of them ( teachers ) as all frightfully dedicated, honest, hardworking, and loving. Teachers generally are just as bad as the rest of us.

    Honestly would you trust yourself to behave properly with thirty odd humans much shorter, weaker than yourself lacking basic human freedom to say :
    “I’ve had enough of this job, it stinks, I’m leaving this classroom never to return, I hate you as my boss!” Then walking out and away from possible future conflict?
    Of course not. You as a teacher would be in a terrible position of attempting against all human rights of making other human beings do things and say things and bending them to your will because the law says you can.
    Obviously you would expect violence upon your person eventually. Dictators often find this.

  28. John S
    April 22, 2017

    At the primary school which I attended (private by the way) there were about 30 to 40 to a class. At grammar school it was 35, reducing to around 10 to 25 in the sixth form, depending on the popularity of the subject being taught. No problems on class sizes.
    The education department, like all other government departments, employs many people doing worthless jobs. These need to be culled so as to free up money for front-line staff. One only has to read the jobs section of The Guardian to see this for oneself.

    1. Jerry
      April 22, 2017

      @JohnS; Except I bet all those in your class wanted to be there, wanted to learn… The biggest failing of the Comprehensive system is that the streaming is not effective, and now we have the awful national curriculum too that stifles all and places then (unfairly) into statisticians ‘tick-boxes’. I also totally agree about DfE staff and LA middle management, a cull is well over due.

  29. Paul w
    April 22, 2017

    On another note..mrs may has hinted that the triple lock on pensions for the elderly might be scrapped in the manifesto..if so then can someone please explain what is the meaning of a triple lock if it can be scrapped so easily?

    1. Jerry
      April 22, 2017

      @Paul w; Anything can be done at election time, that is the point of manifestos!

    2. Lifelogic
      April 22, 2017

      Manifest,os are like toilet paper to be discarded at will once the election has taken place like cast iron promises. In this one Hammond is even suggesting higher taxes during the election. How bloody high does he want the tax rates to be!

    3. Caterpillar
      April 22, 2017

      Rather like elections every 5 years.

  30. Mark
    April 22, 2017

    It’s much easier to run a larger class if all the children are of similar ability, and particularly if disruptive children are excluded from it. The practical limit is set by the ability of the teacher to monitor the progress of pupils, and ensure that attentions are not wandering. Selective education is cost effective education. One paradox is that the most teacher intensive pupils are those who are disruptive or with very high need for monitoring, such as severely autistic children. They need specialised teachers too.

  31. Jason wells
    April 22, 2017

    Perhaps we could improve the teacher/ pupil ratio if we can only get the economy straightened out- and when we have more money to spend.. but there is also the other problem of poor teacher performance in some schools which is still going unchecked and needs to be straightened out.

    However for moment with the economy ie. Retail sales etc falling and consumer spending in a downward curve it doesn’t augur well for the short to medium term so i think educational concerns will have to take a back seat. So anyway maybe the, shortly to be publushed, government manifesto will be able to give us some insights of things to come.

    Reply Retail sales up in volume and value terms on a year ago. Late Easter still to come to boost the figures this year.

  32. Original Richard
    April 22, 2017

    It would help class sizes if the government didn’t allow 300K net immigration into the country year after year.

  33. Anonymous
    April 22, 2017

    All Corbyn has achieved is to highlight the class size problem, for which he offers no solution. In doing so he brings attention to Labour’s weakness on immigration and the impact the unexpected influx of children has had.

  34. Martyn G
    April 22, 2017

    I am a State Primary School Governor. Perhaps not everyone knows that it is against the Law for a State Primary school to take on more than 30 foundation stage children (rising 5 and 5 years old), because if it does then by Law it must employ a second teacher – even if the intake is just 31 or 32 children. The Local Authority can and does sometimes recognise the problem and provide money towards the additional cost incurred and the school ends up with 2 foundation stage classes of, say, 16 and 17; very good for the children but less so for the budget. If in September the following year the foundation stage intake is 30 or fewer, the teacher loses their job – which is why so many advertisements for a teacher are defined as being a temporary position, thus making it much harder to find one.
    If a school cannot afford to take on an additional teacher for the 31+ foundation stage children, it might resort to a creative solution (universally disliked by caring parents) and perhaps select those children thought to be most able of the intake (and also based on month of birth) and put them into Year 1 – a whole school year ahead of their colleagues. I do not say that the Law is necessarily wrong but it can and does make life very difficult for a school that, whatever the outcome, must always ensure that no child is ever disadvantaged. In practical terms, a good foundation stage teacher could easily manage a class of 31 or 32 – perhaps with additional Teaching Assistant support – instead of which, the Law demands that a second teacher be employed to teach the 2 much smaller classes arising from complying with the Law.

  35. Protestant Reformed
    April 22, 2017

    If children do not consume the Bible in the literal sense as children then the Holy Spirit cannot impress Scripture in their mind in the spiritual sense, as adults.

  36. Andrew Gunning
    April 22, 2017

    I think it’s a matter of expectation of teachers, parents and pupils.

    I don’t want to sound like one of Monty Python’s ‘Five Yorkshiremen’ (although I am one!) but in the early fifties my Junior school was on the border of working-class terrace houses and a council estate in a Yorkshire mill town.

    In my class of 42 we had one teacher – Miss Donnelly – who must have been nearly five feet tall and slim built. She had absolutely no trouble with discipline; I remember only one or two occasions when she resorted to ‘The Stick’. We both feared her and loved her in equal measure.

    There were two or three boys who were really a bit dim, but when they left, she made sure they could read and write as well as the rest of us. She got 18 girls and 8 boys through the 11+ – 26 of us went on to Grammar Schools.

    What I’m trying to say is that we were all expected to behave ourselves, expected to learn; the teachers were expected to teach rather than spend their time trying to control us, and our parents expected us to behave and learn. That was the norm.

  37. paul rivers
    April 22, 2017

    I did some strategy work for a large Academy Group a few years ago as a volunteer and without any background in education. What I found out is
    1. Staffing costs are the dominant cost in schools- 75- 85% and so material savings elsewhere are hard.
    2. Very few heads are financially sophisticated or really understand IT. Most however want to be responsible for such matters when it would often be better that they ran the school in a matrix management structure with non education/ teacher management issues are handled at a” group” multi school level which can provide expertise and cost savings. Even in academy chains this is not necessarily the case. Perhaps the need to make economies will further encourage groups of schools to pool resources and expertise and thus help with cost savings.
    3. Two cost savings areas worthy of consideration are using technology much more and questioning if Teachers Assistants provide value for money. In the case of technology there is software to personalise learning, measure progress etc, even on line linkages to maths teachers based in India to give extra coaching at a relatively low cost. Education is like health, notoriously slow and suspicious in using technology. Teaching Assistants never used to exist but became an enormous employment growth market. Results are very mixed, some are effectively trainee teachers and offer a lot, others are much less effective . Reducing staffing in this area ( alongside technology ) can be an effective cost saving.

  38. Simon Platt
    April 22, 2017

    Class sizes are far less important than the quality of teaching, in my view.

    Some time in the late 1990s, I think in 1997 or 1998, an OFSTED report was issued which claimed that surprisingly large number of teachers were “unsatisfactory” – something like 20%, I think. Very shortly afterwards, the new Labour government announced its intention to reduce class sizes in primary schools. The obvious question (obvious to me) was never asked (so far as I could tell): if the country was already struggling to find enough competent teachers, where were the additional ones going to come from, and what would their quality be?

  39. Caterpillar
    April 22, 2017

    I think this conversation is a distraction. From Pisa we know UK remains essentially average in mathematics, but our top end students perform well. The difference between us and countries performing well on average is amount of content (from good textbooks!), solitary practise and testing – a very traditional approach, the alternative is to go a Wolfram approach which I think only Estonia have done (let’s wait for the results). Both are a change in behaviour in class. In science we are also not top performing, nor are our top students top – this (at least) correlates with low level disruption in science classes, behavioural change is needed.

    Parents try to select schools for behaviour, without disruption the class effect size is small. Parents try to choose private education, faith schools, successful headmasters etc to find appropriate behaviour. It is the behaviour issue that is one of the two main issues to be tackled. Low level disruption is not a sign of poor teachers or of creative pupils, it is direct harm to future lives of others and possibly even intergenerational harm. Governments and parents need to support teachers on this.

    The second issue is teacher overload, one through the stress of disruptive students and paperwork, secondly through the number of lessons taught, hence insufficient prep’n (another difference between countries).

    Individuals need to be held responsible, whether a pupil misbehaving in class or an adult fly-tipping or trolling … to somewhat plagiarise – tough on disruptive behaviour, tough on the causes of disruptive behaviour.

  40. English Pensioner
    April 22, 2017

    The only reason for small classes is because without any disciplinary sanctions it is impossible to maintain order with all the children aware of their “rights”.
    At school during wartime I was in a class of about 45 at junior school, our female teacher who was well past retirement age (as no new teachers were entering the profession) kept order with a sharp rap over the knuckles if you misbehaved. In spite of this, we could all read and write and knew our multiplication tables.
    At grammar school, for the first couple of years, all the male teachers were beyond retirement age but managed to keep order and teach a class of about 35. But if you misbehaved, you had to beware of flying chalk or the wooden blackboard duster!
    We all survived, I don’t think any of us were traumatised, and in the days of “O” levels, we sat a maximum of eight subjects, most got about six passes.
    Bring back discipline and it will raise standards.

  41. A matter of Class
    April 22, 2017

    If North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hadn’t been educated in a class numbering over 35 he would have adopted Corbyn’s defence policy on nuclear weapons.

  42. Eh?
    April 22, 2017

    There are not many kids who want more personal interaction with their teacher unless they fancy them.Especially too since their work and overtime are completely unpaid and, nitpicked ,that would in industry bring a legitimate charge of bullying by an operative of the company in a supervisory position.

  43. Ken Moore
    April 22, 2017

    So we have money being diverted from Lincolnshire and Wokingham schools in the interests of ‘fairness’.

    Taxes are set to go up.

    Sky high spending on the crooked foreign aid program is to be protected.

    Yet some still believe Mrs May is a real Conservative and is going to ‘take back control’ from the EU. Don’t be fooled again.

  44. Protestant Reformed
    April 22, 2017

    David Davis could still save this country, he is brave, passionate and sincere. But does he know how bad its got?

    1. Ken Moore
      April 23, 2017

      I don’t believe the man that whipped Conservative mp’s into supporting the ‘hated’ Maastricht treaty is the man to do that.

      1. Protestant Reformed
        April 23, 2017

        I don’t believe the man that whipped Conservative mp’s into supporting the ‘hated’ Maastricht treaty is the man to do that.

        Then who? Where can our St George be found?

  45. Brian Norminton
    April 22, 2017

    Classes should contain children of similar abilities. As long as they do, class size is of secondary importance. Bearing in mind that abilities are distributed on a bell curve, we should expect a large class size for children of average abilities (centre of bell curve). We should also expect progressively smaller class sizes as we go down the ability scale. This is normal practice in Comps. However, we should also expect progressively smaller class sizes as we go up the ability scale, with very small classes ideally for those at the very top of the ability spectrum, so they too can be stretched. Comps do not do this. They instead have a very large top-stream class that includes pupils of average ability and above. The gifted pupils therefore get taught at the same speed as the average pupils, and learn to take it easy. This should change in my opinion.

    1. Anonymous
      April 23, 2017

      The fact is – with mass immigration taboo in this discussion – how are class sizes to come down without employing more teachers and building more schools with money we don’t have ?

      Brexit and controlled immigration must surely be an obvious solution to this problem.

      “Mr Corbyn. We’re having Brexit. That will help with your worries about class size.”

      That’s if the will of the people is implemented of course.

  46. E queenan
    April 23, 2017

    For everyone saying “in my day” or “in the 1950s” etc, can I please remind you: It’s. Not. That. Time. Anymore! The environment and society that children are growing up in now is completely different. Children need to learn so much more, to a greater depth of detail, and a much wider breadth. No they don’t have to learn imperial measurements like you did. You didn’t have to learn programming, or how to keep yourself safe on the Internet, which means you’re connected up to a world that’s running 24 hours a day. Your focus was on learning by rote, theirs is problem solving and creativity because that’s what our society needs right now. Taking education back 60 – 70 years would be akin to a business deciding that this whole Internet thing is just a fad, and let’s only advertise in the yellow pages.
    In terms of class size, yes, the quality of the teacher is much more important. Just as well we don’t have a government that’s done anything stupid like allowing schools to employ unqualified teachers, or that keeps changing the curriculum at the last minuite, or tests children so much that any real teaching goes out of the window. Oh… hang on…

    1. libertarian
      April 23, 2017

      Totally agree !!

    2. Deborah Clark
      April 24, 2017

      Sorry, you are misinformed. Education used to start with rote learning in junior school, to install the basics, but then moved on to real problem solving. Today, pupils do a lot of creativity and “research” (much of it busywork and time-consuming surfing), but do less real problem solving. Critically, now that examinations are governed by published rigid marking schemes, “different” answers, even better answers, do not get better marks. Teachers have to train pupils exactly what to write and how to write it. That is much more stultifying that learning by rote.

      Whilst it is true that education needs to reflect the different society we live in, the concept that modern children have to learn more, in greater depth and more detail is false. They need to understand different things, but in many areas, our access to technology and the internet actually allows school children to learn less and in less detail.

      At its most fundamental, education needs to provide children with the basic tools for life and teach them how to think for themselves. Yesterdays education, whilst not immediately transferrable to today’s society, had a better focus and did a better job.

  47. Teaching now
    April 23, 2017

    You can’t compare your school days to school today because they simply aren’t comparable. I was at school in the 80s and 90s and even I see the difference let alone back in the 40s and 50s. Children do not respect their teachers as they once did and therefore larger classes make learning difficult no mtater how good the teacher is. Trust me, I am an outstanding one. Larger class sizes result in less time spent on each pupil by the teacher and increase workload resulting in a poorer education. It will also drive an ever decreasing number of teachers out of the profession. It is those of you that harp back to the old days without considering the changes and what the people in the teaching profession are saying rather than the lies of government that will merrily vote for Tory disaster and ruin education in this country.

    The Tories are destroying the education system and it has to stop. Regardless of what has gone before, Gove started privitisation of education, Morgan denied a recruitment crisis and May is driving schools in to the ground with a lack of funding and a focus on EBacc that will result in a narrowing curriculum whilst she wastes money on her grammar school pet project against evidence of the harm that they do. I fear for the society of the future if the Tories remain in power.

    1. Iain Gill
      April 23, 2017

      Wow what a comment. All the problems in education stem from top down state control, rationing, and lack of power in the customer (parents) hands.

      Your rant again the conservatives is hilarious because all the other main parties would be worse.

      The sooner decisions are handed over to parents and heads competing for their money the better.

      The state should get out of it, except it should make sure all parents can afford a decent school, other than that the political, journalistic, and teaching unions and training bodies are all very sub optimal.

  48. Brenda Hill
    April 23, 2017

    Is stands to reason there is a direct correlation between ability to control and discipline and class sizes. Lack of discipline is bound to affect achievement (not to mention morale of the teachers). Schools need proper funding per pupil to get enough good staff, facilities and equipmemt to teach children in the current age (not back in the 50s).

  49. Angela
    April 23, 2017

    As a teacher, I’ve seen class sizes increase to 32. More can’t physically be squeezed into my classroom. Whilst I don’t find discipline an issue, it takes me a lot longer to mark their books and I am not able to give my pupils as much attention. In London years ago I once had a class of 42.

    I couldn’t claim to be able to offer the same quality of learning to 30+ as I could to a class of 25. Larger classes day in day out are exhausting for a teacher and frustrating for pupils. Our work load is ever increasing despite the government acknowledging the need to cut unnecessary tasks.

    Class sizes have become too big. We need smaller classes and funding for text books. The current funding is not adequate no matter how it is divided. Money is being squandered on new unnecessary free schools and grammar schools whilst existing, excellent schools are ignored. It’s ridiculous.

  50. B Pearson
    April 23, 2017

    My 6 year old son is in a class of 30, set to rise as his school faces cuts of nearly £300k per year. Bigger classes will mean worse outcomes for all children. Our school is already having to go cap in hand to parents in an attempt to maintain standards.

  51. Concerned parent
    April 23, 2017

    Rather than talk of gut instincts and ‘everything was fine in my day’ mentalities, perhaps it would be useful to look at evidence such as this work from Bristol University The larger the class size, the more time is spent on non-learning activities.

    Teaching assistants are valuable members of schools. They are paid very badly, often just above minimum wage. They have to work one-to-one with children with special educational needs and disabilities. Should these children not be entitled to additional help?

    If we don’t invest in education for all our children, what’s the alternative? Ignorance? That will really help our economy flourish.

  52. Janet
    April 23, 2017

    It’s not really class sizes that is crippling our schools. It’s the hoops that teachers are forced to jump through, inflicted by Education ministers who have no clue. The real time financial cuts are devastating. Teachers are demoralised because, in order to support the children in their class, they often need extra support.. Cutting the budget for SEN will only makes life harder for many. Mental health among teachers and pupils is at record levels. Privatisation of schools will only serve to exacerbate the problem.

  53. Over stretched
    April 23, 2017

    As a Primary School teacher I can honestly comment on class sizes. With the current curriculum and government expectations the work load is honestly unsustainable – I work on average 60-70 hours per week. The ‘long’ holidays are often spent marking, planning, assessing and completing administrative tasks. I have 32 children in my class, which is not as high as some school, the number of children adds to my work load – more books to mark; more reports to write and more assessment, but more than this is the feeling that regardless of the number of hours I put in I never feel I have enough time for my pupils. The level of need in my class is high and I regularly feel that I am failing one or other group of pupils. Smaller class sizes would definitely help.

    On another note, with regards to behaviour this needs to start at home. There are an increasing number of children starting school without even basic manners let alone the ability to demonstrate the desired behaviour for learning. This is not a teachers job, we can only reinforce the expected behaviour. I have 2 young children and I would be horrified if my children behaved the way many children do.

  54. Lindsay McDougall
    April 23, 2017

    The questions that need to be answered are:
    – To what extent do children with learning difficulties slow down the acquisition of knowledge and proficiency by other children?
    – Is there any correlation between the number of children with learning difficulties and the average income of their parents?
    – Is spending a lot of teacher time and other resources in teaching children with special needs or learning difficulties a good investment?

    Answering these questions may have an influence on the distribution of funds from central government to local schools.

    And finally a question for Mr Redwood. Does he think it fair that atheistic taxpayers are forced to contribute to the financing of Faith Schools, bearing in mind that the various faiths contradict each other and are a million miles from the truth?

  55. Louise Mellor
    April 23, 2017

    Thank-you for your interest in education. The National Audit Office have identified larger class sizes as one of many “risk factors” in relation to the decreasing per-pupil funding in real-terms. Hence, the larger sizes are occurring as a result of reduced budgets, and not from the starting point of the “lesson experience”, which your article explores. I do take your point that pupils can positively experience larger lectures or on-lining learning, as part of a package of learning. The are most effective when combined with smaller-group tutorials (as we experienced at university, for example), and nurturing and pastoral care, which require valuable people contact time. And ultimately, all educational inputs need to be resourced (including on-line learning which is not free.)

    The Department of Education has stated that the pupil:teacher ratios are rising in both primary and secondary schools, and we need to think of the impact of this on the whole system (including a lot of work outside the classroom itself, such as marking books.) A huge area is teacher workload. Last year, the Economist (magazine) reported on international comparative data which showed that teachers in England and Wales work on average an hour and a half longer per day and spend 30% more time on administration as compared to their counterparts in other OECD countries.

    The National Audit Office has also reported that teacher shortages are growing. The Department of Education has missed its recruitment targets for the last four years, and retention rates are low due to “unmanageable workloads”. There has been a rise in the teachers leaving the profession, with 10.4% teachers quitting their jobs in 2014.

    Hence, class sizes are just one of many inter-connected issues in an increasingly stretched system. The system requires sufficient resources, without which children’s educational experiences, attainment and life-long opportunities will be diminished.

    Thank-you very much for your interest in this vital matter.

    1. Pragmatist
      April 24, 2017

      Retention in a number of vital professions, such as teaching, social work and many medical professions, is a huge issue. If we are supposed to Brexit and thus not hire skilled staff from abroad, then our only choice is to develop our own skilled work force. How can we do that if we are not investing heavily in all levels of education?

  56. M Atkin
    April 23, 2017

    The point here is that many modern schools do not have classrooms big enough to accommodate classes of greater than 30. My children’s school certainly couldn’t on a regular basis (from time to time they are forced to sue to budget cuts which mean that the school cannot afford supply teachers if a classroom teacher is absent for a short time). On top of that with funding being cut so that many primary schools are being forced to lose teaching assistants, I have absolutely no doubt that larger class sizes in these early years, without additional adult/teaching support will negatively impact on learning.

    Current levels if funding for schools (real terms cuts) is a national disgrace. The Conservative government ought to be very ashamed of itself.

  57. Heather Clarke
    April 24, 2017

    Of course class size matters. If parents are happy with schools in Wales, then it is in spite of class sizes going up not because of it. Also be super wary of any argument along the lines of “I was in a big class in the 60s, never did us harm” for this will usually indicate someone who is not looking properly at the very different situations faced in schools today, or at the dreadfully pushy style of teacher being forced on young children (i.e. reception targets now in line with old year 1/2 targets.) its an absolute no-brainer for me, an excellent teacher can probably cope with a big class, but not all teachers are excellent (nor can we expect this) and just coping is not really good enough. More focus for each individual can only be a good thing both academically and emotionally, and those two aspects of learning are not mutually exclusive, happier more secure kids who feel known by their teacher are better behaved and can take more in. This is a simple point, however I’ve not seen any push to reduce class sizes in my lifetime let alone during my children’s school careers. Right now it feels the battle line has moved backwards and as parents we are having to fight to prevent a drop in standards rather than fighting for improvements.

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