Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Numbers Are Not Important



The Scottish government are being slated for not meeting their manifesto commitment of reducing pupil numbers in primary one, two and three to 18.

Aside from their ambitious manifesto promises, (which few parties achieve), how important is this?

Here I go again. In the 50s I attended a local primary school where I'm told that the class size was 39. (That's from someone who is still a friend today and we were in that first class. Her father was the janitor so she was able to access these statistics as an adult). It was a standard primary school. Because I won a scholarship to the local Academy primary and my parents accepted it, (the first boy and girl of every primary were offered one in Dundee in those days), I lost knowledge of Dens Road Primary school but of course my friends were still the same because most of us lived within 300 yards of it.

The friend who gave me the information about class numbers went on to be a well respected teacher who has always said that, within reason, class sizes don't matter. She says, "As a teacher we consciously divide classes into five. Those who will achieve regardless, those who will achieve with a little study, those who will achieve with persuasion, those who will achieve with a wee bit of extra help both academically and spiritually ( 'boosting of egos') and those who really aren't too interested in school but want to get away and do something."

Numbers have little to do with it. The curriculum schools have to follow today is vast and in particular the Curriculum of Excellence that Scottish schools are now obliged to follow is beyond my comprehension. The amount of inane nonsense it contains would test the best of us, far less teachers. Yet the teachers of today allow their Union to dictate their class syllabus and thus their abilities.

A good teacher can teach 35 to read, write and do arithmetic as was proved in the 50s. Today we have 20% of children identified as SEN because they have difficulties. Reducing the sizes of classes may make it easier for teachers but is that the answer? As today's Ofsted report said, improving the quality of teaching may go a long way to resolving today's problems. If you have a class of 18 - as the Scottish government said could be attained - with a poor teacher, they won't achieve more than a class of 30 with a good teacher. That's common sense.

Some of us just aren't designed for teaching yet go through the teaching further education process and come out the other end qualified. Colleges and universities have to start being honest with those they see as not having the potential to teach our children well.

To have primaries 1, 2 and 3 with classes of 18 was a pipe dream, but it doesn't mean to say the education of our infants will suffer. With good teachers, who are given the authority to instill discipline, they will do well in classes of 25 or more. Whether we like it or not, some teachers are incompetent yet they're never sacked. Time that matter was addressed rather than pupil numbers.

15 comments:

Macheath said...

'With good teachers, who are given the authority to instill discipline...

*hollow laughs*

Just try it, and see how far you get before you're invited to the head's office for a wee chat...

Anon said...

Dens Road Primary school!

That name rings a bell.

I was once 38th top in a class of 39. Bad teaching at a certain High School.

In Singapore a good teacher could teach 100 kids at a time because the divorce rate there is low and kids are not high on drugs and drink.

Kids with a bad upbringing need intensive care by classy teachers.

Why are teachers not allowed to insist on good manners in schools?

I suppose the culture of the UK is a sort of Jonathan Ross culture.

- Aangirfan

English Pensioner said...

When I was in junior school (ie pre-11 plus), my class had between 45 and 50 pupils. I know that there had been a war, and our final teacher was well past retiring age. But we could all read and write and knew our tables up to the 12 times. Mind you, we didn't have sex-education and none of us were allowed to misbehave on pain of a sharp rap across the knuckles. Who is better off these days, the eleven year olds now or then?

Macheath said...

@ Aangirfan

Kids with a bad upbringing need intensive care by classy teachers.

The weaker the students, the more intelligent the teacher needs to be if they are to achieve the best results possible.

Sadly the Estelle Morris principle has dominated since the 70s - fashionable orthodoxy said only those who have failed are equipped to understand failing pupils.

Keith Ruffles said...

It seems these guys at the University of London have had mixed results - younger classes seem to be influenced by size to a high degree but this decreases as they get older:

http://www.classsizeresearch.org.uk/results.html

subrosa said...

Aye Macheath, that's the problem. The 'manager' is more interested in toeing the Righteous line.

subrosa said...

Aye Aangirfan, it was a good school. As far as I'm aware there weren't any 'bad' schools in Dundee in those days even though there were plenty homes which would be labelled disadvantaged these days. In fact only around 10% would have avoided such a label.

You suppose correctly. It's a Big Brother, East Enders culture nowadays.

subrosa said...

I'm sure you know what my answer is EP but, to avoid doubt, it was then.

subrosa said...

Thanks for that link Keith. I've read it before but I'm still not convinced although, in private schools numbers are fewer, but that's why you pay the extra.

We'd all love to have our children taught on a one to one basis. Schools can't do it but homes could make an effort. Few do.

Gedguy said...

Having went to St Columba's primary school, in Kirkton, in the sixties I recognise much of what you are saying. It does seem that when 'discipline' went out of the school the standard of education went down.
Kids need discipline and from that stance one can make an assumption that fear of the 'belt' would lead to a greater concentration of the subjects that was being taught.

Sheila said...

According to John Taylor Gatto, thinking about the "problem" of schooling as an engineer might (tinkering with class sizes for example)misses the point.

Plenty of links here - any of the writings and lectures make a good starting point:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_Gatto

subrosa said...

The belt wasn't the only discipline Gedguy. Parents were notified in my day and you were always guaranteed a clip round the ear or nae sweeties for a week once they found out. It wasn't worth misbehaving. The consequences were too harsh.

Dark Lochnagar said...

Rosie, there is no doubt that when discipline and particular the belt went out of education, it suffered. The generation behind me, are now becoming Grandparents, so we have had, two generations of poorly taught and ill disciplined brats. I had a physics teacher in third year, who used to give me two of the belt as soon as I walked in to his class. Excesive you might say, but IMO that man turned me round from being someone who never tried and thus never attained to the person of perspicacity, you now see before you!

subrosa said...

Thank you Sheila. I'll start with your link.

Tinkering with curriculums and class sizes isn't going to produce a generation of better educated children is it.

Private education shows that the influence of parents matters a great deal. I doubt if there are many children from average income homes and in private education who won't tell you the sacrifices their parent(s) are making to ensure they attend their school.

I'll stop there or this will become a rant too.

subrosa said...

What's his name and address DL? He deserves an MBE. :)

As I said in an earlier comment, it wasn't just the thought of the belt (which was banned for girls long before boys in my school), but the consequences when my parents found out. The school made very sure they did.

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