Turn class size upside down

Dame Julia Goodfellow was in the press this weekend in her role as President of Universities UK (UUK). Her preoccupations included the case for higher fees for science and medical degrees and the need to tackle the laddish culture in universities.  I was also interested however in her response to student complaints about lack of teaching time and personal attention. She said students needed to be more aware of how to learn in larger groups. 

My solution to this has long been to swap current teaching styles between sixth forms and primary classes. Let’s go intensive small group for primaries and lecture style for post 16. 

It is true as the UUK esteemed President says that students coming from sixth forms where they have been taught in small classes (maximum 20 whether state or independent) will find lecturing in classes of 2-300 very impersonal.  These are of course followed up by small group tutorials for more detailed discussion.  The latter is just how universities teach and is unlikely to change.  No spoon feeding.   In schools however we traditionally reserve our smallest classes for post 16. Often there will be three same subject groups being taught the same content by different teachers. How inefficient!  Now that nearly every school has a lecture theatre however why do we not change tack and mirror university style teaching in sixth forms and lecture to large groups, followed by small group tutorials.  What a saving and it would help the students prepare for learning university style.

Having achieved this post 16,  schools would have the resource to provide small classes for our reception and primary children.  Let them be taught in form groups of 12 not 30 and I guarantee the positive difference  in progress both academically and personally.  It is true this will only work in an ‘all through’ school context.   Well it is another advantage of ‘all through’ education of which I have long been an advocate.  However it would also be possible in Academy federations where primary and secondaries collaborate and share resources.  

Raise standards in primary schools and we future proof the secondary phase and indeed the university phase. Reverse our priority for class sizes and everyone is a winner!  Small to large teaching groups as students mature rather than the reverse. 

7.9.15

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