Page 2934 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 6 August 2008

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MR SMYTH: The minister now gets his courage up and starts to interject; he is feeling the pressure over there. Go and get your press release and read your press release and justify your press release in this place. Take the numbers. Come and have a debate. You have got your degree with an economics unit in it. Fantastic! Take our numbers on. You cannot. And that is why, deadpan, you read your speech, without erring from it. You know you are on dangerous ground. You are wrong on so many things, minister, as the Labor Party has been wrong on so much in this place.

They have reduced education funding in real terms; they have failed to acknowledge that class sizes are important; and they have failed to demolish the costings of the opposition.

MR SPEAKER: I call Mr Gentleman.

Mrs Dunne: So Mick is going to do the costings?

Mr Seselja: We don’t want a minister to mislead!


Mr Seselja: I am sorry. I apologise. I withdraw that.

MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (12.22): Yesterday the opposition attempted to demonstrate that smaller class sizes are the best single route to increasing student outcomes. This is simplistic and indefensible. Yesterday the opposition argued that their policy was superior because it was research based and that the government was ignoring academia in its support for alternative educational policy. Unfortunately for them, the body of research available does not support the theory that class sizes are indeed the panacea they see for improving student outcomes or will stem the drift from public schools to private ones. Indeed, while there is expert academic opinion backing the belief that smaller class sizes do work well in early childhood years, the results of research on the effects in the later years are far more equivocal.

While class sizes can have a bearing on student outcomes, they are not necessarily the greatest or possibly even one of the greatest influences. Rather, there are a range of factors such as the quality of teaching that have more significant bearing on the achievements of students. This essentially is one of the conclusions drawn by Professor John Hattie from the University of Auckland’s faculty of education. His 2005 paper, “The Paradox of reducing class size and improving learning outcomes”, studies research carried out over three decades and provides a balanced and thorough analysis of why smaller class sizes do not always result in improved student outcomes.

Rather than relying on one or two research papers, Professor Hattie has undertaken a systematic meta analysis of a wide range of studies into the effect of small class sizes as well as other factors that influence student learning. His analysis allowed him to compile a list of 46 influences on student achievement. Some of the most important influences were feedback from students and teachers, early intervention and quality of teaching. Quality of teaching was the fifth ranked influence, a ranking that was based on the size of the positive effect of student achievement.

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