Should we be trying to reduce class sizes?

Class size is a hot topic again. A predicted population increase and funding decrease, mean that pressure on class sizes is likely to grow. A research review from the Department for Education considers a number of issues around class size in England, including the impact on educational outcomes. The authors found a number of benefits from smaller classes, such as individual pupils being the focus of the teacher’s attention for longer.

However, previous research has shown that reducing class size is beneficial when classes are small, around 15 pupils. With budgets stretched, schools should consider the financial benefits of allowing classes to grow slightly. This may allow them to preserve resources for more effective ways of improving attainment, such as increasing teacher effectiveness.

Source: Class size and education in England evidence report (2011), Department for Education

Keep your eye on the ball

Major football tournaments can be a serious distraction for some pupils, particularly during critical exam periods. A study by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, published to coincide with the draw for next summer’s UEFA European football championship, found that some pupils perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international football tournament taking place. The effect was particularly noticeable for boys, and pupils from poorer areas, groups that are already lower performers on average.

Source: Student effort and educational attainment: Using the England football team to identify the education production function (2011), The Centre for Market and Public Organisation,

UK disappoints on social mobility

A report by the Sutton Trust, which compared social mobility in several countries, found that the UK performs poorly.

The key findings of the report were that:

  • Gaps in school readiness in England between disadvantaged children and their counterparts were wider than in similar countries, such as Canada and Australia, but narrower than the United States.
  • Formal preschool education can have lasting effects in reducing the educational gap between high and low income children.
  • Disparities in early child outcomes persist into adolescence.
  • Unlike other countries, the achievement gap in England actually widens in secondary school.
  • None of the countries in the study reduce the disparity as children age.

The report concludes that addressing the social stratification in secondary schools remains one of the key challenges for improving social mobility in the UK.

Source: Latest research report: what prospects for mobility in the UK? A cross-national study of educational inequalities and their implications for future education and earnings mobility (2011), Sutton Trust

Family literacy programmes should help children and parents

A new study has found that children living in poverty and whose mothers have no educational qualifications do less well in language, literacy and social development than their peers. Frequent home learning alone does not compensate for this disadvantage.

It suggests that family literacy programmes should have a wider remit in terms of supporting families (for example, encouraging parents to take part in educational activities themselves) rather than solely focusing on supporting parents to give specific literacy or numeracy skills to their children.

Source: Families’ social backgrounds matter: socio-economic factors, home learning and young children’s language, literacy and social outcomes (2011), British Educational Research Journal 37(6)