Class sizes – big issue or not?

Photograph by Krishnan Gopakumar

This issue is a bit contentious at the moment, so I thought it’s about time Politicalisation covered it. I tried to get all scholarly with this stuff, but I couldn’t actually find any journal articles that answered the question I was putting forward.

What everyone seems to be asking is “do class sizes effect the education of a child?” This question is fine if class sizes were the only issue at hand, but it’s not. Obviously, class sizes will make an impact on the education of a child. There is a vast array of research that says smaller classes improve student performance (see School Class Size: Research and Policy by Gene V. Glass, for example). However, what about asking the real question at hand – what makes more of an effect on a child’s education, class size or quality of teaching?

The only research I could find that comments on this was referred to be Hekia Parata on February 8th. She referred the member asking the question (Catherine Delahunty) to research by Professor John Hattie. This research says that class size makes little difference to a child’s education, compared with the effect teaching quality makes (see the video below for the full question/answer from February 8th, or have a read at Hansard).

Delahunty got a little upset by the use of this research, saying in a blog post that the comments are quite contested. I can only assume she means the effect of class sizes is given she linked to research that doesn’t discuss the quality of teaching.

Because I couldn’t find any real discussion on the question I was asking, I’m going to have to go purely on opinion. I do feel that, while smaller classes are better for children, quality teaching and having resources surrounding the children is more important. The Greens and Labour have been putting a picture around with John Key quoted as saying his children go to private schools because they will get a better education due to smaller class sizes are being better resourced. Labour and the Greens say this is Key saying that smaller class sizes are better, therefore he’s a hypocrite. But they ignore the second part of the comment – they are better resourced. Switching funding from teachers as the resource to other types of resources cannot be a bad thing. In a perfect world, we could have more teachers AND more resources.

That utopia doesn’t exist and, hopefully, we find the right balance of teachers and resources so that children get the most out of their education. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our education system is failing. Something needs to be done. Good on National for trying to get it done.


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Posted on June 7, 2012, in New Zealand Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Bro, our education system is not failing. We are ranked 4th in the OECD for Science and Reading Performance, and 7th for Maths.


    What are the key features of the education systems that do better than us? Small class sizes, and a professional, highly valued, and non-stratified teacher core. Case in point: Finland, where the average class size is 18, teachers all have a Masters degree, and their pay is limited to between 2100-3300 Euros per month (so the highest earning teacher earns only 14 400 Euro per year above the lowest earning teacher: i.e no performance based pay).


    In fact, the average class size in the OECD is only 21.4 students, so our class sizes are already hugely above the norm in the developing world.


    Of course, class size isn’t the only important factor, and as a matter of fact I don’t really believe the proposed changes are at all significant. But it’s important that you realise 1) Our education system ISN’T failing, so there’s no need to make drastic changes to it; 2) These changes are about saving money, not about improving education; and 3) Teachers are the most important resource in our education system. Countries with good education systems are the ones where teaching is a valued profession and so the teachers are of excellent quality. Where the reverse is true, the reverse is true.

    • You can’t quote rankings from 2007 and say they’re relevant now. I give enough reason as to why our education system is failing in the post I linked to, so I’m not going to go over it again.

      That’s great about Finland. They’ve got both the teaching quantity and quality. It would be excellent if we could do that. However, we can’t. As it is now we have teachers that are well below the quality we need.

      I agree that teachers are the most important resource in our education system, IF they’re teaching quality. If they’re not, they might as well not be there.

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