Saturday, 10 August 2013

Does size matter?

According to Andreas Schleicher, class sizes can be big with no detrimental affects on achievement, if they have the best teachers.

The overarching theme of this interesting talk by the director of PISA, which compares achievement data from different countries,  is that using such achievement data leads to improved outcomes for students in all countries.
But he has many other interesting points in the video, including some contentious issues for New Zealanders.  For example, his data shows that successful outcomes for students does not depend on small class size.
In fact, what does matter is the valuing of teachers and teaching as a profession in general.  In countries which have made the greatest gains in achievement, teachers are paid very well, but have high class sizes.  They also have "intelligent pathways" for their careers.
Luxembourg as a country spends a lot of money on education, but the penchant for smaller class sizes means that their teachers are not paid so well and subsequently, or so it seems, their student achievement has not been at a high level.
In other countries where achievement is high, the societies value education highly.  Their citizens are told "school is important" and parents, teachers and everyone strives to make sure they get the best from their education.
So how do you think this would go down in New Zealand?  Have we become a nation of undervalued, underpaid teachers and a society which believes school is not important in the scheme of things?  To a large extent I think this is true.
Now I am not necessarily for larger class sizes, but I would like to know, how can we make school more important?  I think that we need to make it more relevant for every learner with differentiated learning opportunities.
Parents and society in general would be much happier with schools they saw potential flourishing, and every individual given the chance to develop their own expertise and skills.
Or would they?  Are we stuck in an industrial model of education where society believes that the old education system worked for them, so nothing should change? Where the drafting of our students into "successes or failures" based on someone's idea of useful criteria is helpful to creating a vibrant, viable society?
Food for thought.  The video is packed full of discussion about other issues as well.  The positive message from the talk is that objective comparative data does make a difference.  No-one wants to be seen as the last in the race.  It is interesting to see the position and size of New Zealand's dot on the graph.
What do you think??


  1. I would consider that those countries with higher achievement rates have them despite the class sizes. Clearly these countries value education, expect yheir children to succeed and their teachers are valued as professionals, have community standing and a paid well. I bet these countries also have a comprehensive food in schools programme.
    Until poverty issues in NZ are addressed, we have well fed children, children are able to and are expected to attend school (instead of babysitting siblings or zipping off to Fiji during term) and education is cherished we will continue to have issues with achievement.
    I personally find I am a better, more inovative and in tune teacher with 20 students than I am with 30. 24 is the top number I consider a class should have. After that it becomes bums on seats and crowd control.
    Thanks for writing this piece, putting out your thoughts and getting discussion going. Awesome work.

  2. Thanks for your comments, melulater. Interesting points. To some extent, a flexible learning environment might make the difference. If children are absent for whatever reason, the chance to be able to catch up, or proceed ahead at their own pace could help parents come on board as well. Workplaces are becoming a little more flexible now so we are mimicking real life if we allow for such disruptions. I read an report today from the University of Florida about how blended learning students did better than those wholly online or wholly face to face. Wonder if that applies for younger children as well?