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Our Log of Claims: Class Sizes


It’s a perennial debate in education: class sizes and their impact on student learning and outcomes. It seems an advocate with a conclusion in search of a study can surely find one to make their own case. The problem is the studies are of varying quality and often examine very different outcomes for different populations.

We’ve looked again at the evidence, with particular interest in applying it to what we do in Canberra.

There is now conclusive evidence of the lasting effects of small classes in the early years, at least preschool to Year 3. The very latest analysis of research, published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis late last year, confirms that low child–teacher ratios lead to better outcomes in classrooms by “facilitating high quality interactions between teachers, both those that are emotionally supportive and cognitively stimulating.”

The international study found that “regulations that hold class sizes at or below 20 and child– teacher ratios at or below 10:1 are largely adequate for most children.” In fact, longitudinal research shows classes as small as 15 students would optimise long term benefits for students right up to Year 12.

The ACT Education Directorate is to be commended for its policy to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 21 or 22 students in preschool to Year 3 classes. The problem is the government doesn’t insist on compliance until we raise it. Too many Year 3 classes have more students than the funded maximum of 21. The most common composite classes include Years 3 and 4. Those classes are often too big for optimal results.

Small class sizes, particularly in the first few years, can have a huge academic benefit with little additional cost. It needn’t require more teachers as classes can be divided up for specialist learning in key areas, numeracy and literacy.

Ahead of fresh negotiations on firming up a new three year enterprise agreement, the AEU will argue for a firmer and enforced policy. The AEU’s class size maximums should be inserted into our Enterprise Agreement.

Respected education expert Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger concludes that on average, students who attend schools with smaller classes “tend to have higher academic achievement”. He notes that the relationship between class size and achievement is not as robust as, for example, the relationship between years of education and earnings. “But this is probably because relatively small gains in test scores from smaller classes

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