Reducing class sizes
When teachers have large classes, they all too often end up being unable to attend to the individual needs of students in the ways they know would make the biggest difference.
The cornerstone of education relies on understanding students’ individual needs and building strong relationships with them. Teaching a large class makes that a challenge – one that Art teacher Wendy Quinn knows well.
“A teacher might have as many as nine classes of 25-plus students per term,” she says. “It’s difficult to gain a deep understanding about each child to connect with them the best, because the sheer volume of students you have is so large.” Read more about Wendy.
Reducing class sizes in public schools is a top priority. Parents and teachers consistently report that improved learning relies on keeping class sizes appropriate to the educational needs of students.
All students, whether they are high-achieving or struggling, have complex learning needs requiring some one-on-one attention. The more students there are in a classroom, the less time teachers have to spend with each of them.
Students flourish when they have the attention of teachers to address their individual learning needs. This can only be achieved in class sizes of 20 students or less, which enables classes to be better engaged.
We know that a student’s attitude to school becomes more positive when his or her individual needs are met.
Research in Australia and overseas has linked smaller class sizes to:
- A greater level of student engagement in learning, particularly for the lowest- achieving students
- Improved student achievement throughout their schooling
- Improved student behaviour and human relations skills
- More positive interactions between teachers and students.
It is generally accepted that smaller class sizes are crucial for students’ learning development and overall welfare in the early primary years. A range of other research has found positive impacts on students in the later primary and secondary years, emphasising the particular benefits of small class sizes on lower performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Many of the positive ideas about how to improve learning can only be achieved with reasonable class sizes.
Every classroom contains students with diverse and often complex learning needs. Teachers know that having fewer students in a class enables them to meet those needs more effectively.
The goal should be to have no more than 20 students in each class. Where students require specific intervention strategies to meet their needs, the teacher-to-student ratio should range from 1:1 for programs such as Reading Recovery to 1:5–1:15, depending on the specific learning program.
 Class size and academic results, with a focus on children from culturally, linguistically and economically disenfranchised communities (2014), https://journal.anzsog.edu.au/publications/9/EvidenceBase2014Issue1.pdf.
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