Class sizes … quite a difficult topic. Schools are different. I’ve taught in schools of varying sizes over the past couple of years. I’ve also been in classes of different sizes as a pupil, ranging from a class of 40 in middle school through to a class of about 10 in A levels.
Teachers are being forced to behave “like police officers” because a rise in class sizes is putting a strain on the education system, a children’s author has warned.
Young pupils risk missing out on creative projects in the classroom following an increase in the number of children squeezed into each lesson, it was claimed.
Nick Butterworth, author of Percy the Park Keeper and creator of the CBeebies series Q Pootle 5, said that large classes were the single biggest reason why children’s learning difficulties went unnoticed. The comments follow the publication of official figures showing that the average primary school lesson contained almost 27 pupils last year.
Data from the Department for Education revealed that 26.8 pupils shared the average primary lesson in 2012/13, up from 26.2 in 2008/9.
Among five- to seven-year-olds alone, the average class size stood at 27.3, with 71,935 children taught in “supersized” lessons of more than 30 pupils. The number of English children in the largest lessons has now more than doubled in just three years despite legislation that officially bans schools from staging infant classes of 31 or more except in exceptional circumstances.
Mr Butterworth is due to address the London Festival of Education on the issue of teaching standards later this month. Speaking before the address, he dismissed the notion that teachers should be blamed for British children receiving a poor education. He said that large classes in his own childhood meant that it took until the age of eight for a teacher to realise that he could not read. “Whilst class sizes are better than they were in my day, they still need to be urgently addressed,” he said. “I slipped through the net when I was growing up. I left school when I was 16, but I was barely there for the last couple of years and my struggles were never picked up on due, not least, to the sheer number of pupils teachers had to keep tabs on. It’s a diversion to talk about weeding out bad teachers. What we really need is more teachers. If class sizes were halved, teachers could stop having to act like police officers and be able to concentrate on thinking creatively about how best to engage with their pupils.”
Mr. Butterworth, who has sold more than 12 million books worldwide, including titles such as Jingle Bells, Tiger and The Whisperer, claimed that schools were too focused on passing exams rather than inspiring enthusiasm for a subject. “Children are naturally hungry to learn, but they learn most easily when they are taught by inspiring teachers,” he said. “The opposite is also true. Children will switch off when they perceive a subject to be dry, abstract and boring. Having a subject on the curriculum is not a guarantee that it will be learnt. If teachers are really going to inspire children, they need to love and enjoy their work. The inspirers need to be inspired.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are spending £5 billion by 2015 on creating new school places — more than double the amount spent by the previous government in the same timeframe. We are also building more free schools, letting the most popular schools expand, and intervening to drive up standards in weak primaries which have thousands of empty places simply because parents don’t want to send their children there.”