Last week, whilst reviewing some of the most popular girls' and co-educational prep schools in London, I was struck by the differences in class sizes. They ranged from 24 to 12, with most towards the upper end.
Does class size matter?
Whilst, many parents often come to us with 'small classes' towards the top of their preference list, for good reason, often wanting more of a share of the teacher's time for their child and a greater chance of their individual learning needs being taken into account, not to mention less chance of distraction, as with all things, one needs to examine each school individually to really understand whether a simple glance at class size will deliver this. How does the teaching on offer relate to class size? Inspirational teaching may communicate just as well to 20 as to 16. And, when does setting or group work begin?
Most independent schools and the best state schools, talk a great deal about their ability to develop each child as an individual. However, not all absolutely deliver on this. I was very impressed by the individual tailoring spied in a small London prep where each child for every lesson, had their own sticker printed out with their own learning objectives for that particular lesson – whilst one child needed to remember to use capital letters for names and places; another was challenged to see if they could use an adverb. Clearly small classes make such tailoring possible.
Where pupils have particular needs, such as learning differences then such tailoring is vital and should be a given whatever the numbers in the class. Nonetheless, support does often come in the shape of more one-to-one time, whether that be in class or outside it. One school nationally with expertise in this area is able to take a year group and split it into twenty tiny classes… although in some instances these can also become so small as to prompt us to wonder about the loss of camaraderie, fun and the stimulation of peers.
Where are the other children, mummy?
Jessica's daughter on arrival to her carefully chosen petite reception class in Singapore, looked around in disappointment for all of the other children. It’s a balance which one needs to strike differently for different personalities as well as learning styles.
Certainly by the time of sixth form, class sizes often do dwindle, particularly in single sex schools where some students have departed for the delights of the co-ed and although this means that class sizes of just a handful of students do have something of the university tutorial feel, unless each student in the group is equally serious about the subject it leaves those who perhaps are striving for an A* and onward study without serious colleagues for debate and a competitive push. It takes a certain type of student to feel able to study solo, like the lone music technology student we met at a girls’ senior school this week. Often they excel, and perhaps if the co-curricular is wide and friendships are strong within the common room then it's a brilliant opportunity.