Page 2935 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 6 August 2008

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But ranked 40th was class size. Why is this? Why do not smaller classes necessarily lead to greater benefits for the students? One reason put forward is that many teachers, when put into classrooms with smaller numbers of students, do not necessarily fully adapt their teaching techniques accordingly. And Mr Seselja supported this position earlier. While they may exploit some of the potential benefits, their teaching style remains the same as it was in the larger classes. So reducing class sizes as a unilateral policy intervention does not lead to the outcomes that Mr Pratt, Mr Seselja and Mrs Dunne claimed yesterday. What is also required is providing teachers with the training that will allow them to make the most of their situation.

Professor Hattie found another reason why smaller class sizes do not necessarily lead to better outcomes in the evidence of a $1 billion push in California to reduce class sizes, namely, that there were not enough quality teachers to staff all of the classrooms created in the push to reduce class sizes. All states and territories are competing for the best and brightest teachers, teachers who should be encouraged, through initiatives that reward their expertise, to remain in the classroom to bring the best out of many generations of students. This is what parents want: quality teachers in their children’s classrooms who are skilled, trained and supported to ensure that their child achieves as highly as they can.

Again we see that this quality of the teacher leading the classroom is the bigger factor in determining student success. Good teaching will result in quality student learning outcomes in a large as well as a small classroom. This is not to say that the government should not reduce class sizes, particularly where there is evidence this intervention would provide positive dividends for student achievement. There is some consensus, based on research evidence, that smaller class sizes do work in kindergarten and the early years of schooling, and this is why the ACT government has targeted investment in the early years of schooling.

Professor Brian Caldwell, in his recent 2008 publication, Raising the stakes, states:

We need to direct attention at higher quality teaching, and higher expectations that students can meet appropriate challenges—and these occur once the classroom door is closed and not by reorganising which or how many students are behind those doors …

It is the pedagogies and skills of the teachers, pedagogies practised particularly in the earliest years of schooling, that lead professors Hattie and Ehrenberg to believe smaller class sizes are most beneficial in the early years of schooling. This is where most of the advantage can be gained and it is where the ACT has targeted its investment in evidence-based, research-supported policy. By helping students earlier on, we are making the task of educating them in later years much easier.

The undoubted conclusion of all the research on the effects of smaller class sizes is that there is no clear conclusion that unequivocally supports smaller class sizes across all classrooms in all primary schools and certainly no body of evidence that the opposition can produce to repudiate this government’s investment in quality teaching and quality learning environments.

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