The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?

The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?

The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?

The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?


"This is a very important book which may become a classic. The research study is remarkable in its magnitude, breadth and duration.... it is described in a form accessible to practitioners and policy makers."
- Professor Jeremy D. Finn, State University of New York at Buffalo, USA

"This fascinating book is one that should be compulsory reading for student teachers... It also provides challenge and insight for experienced teachers....a stimulating source of evidence which will challenge people to consider their own approaches and what might constitute good important contribution to the class size debate."
- Inservice Journal

One of the most important debates in education in recent years has been about the effects of class size differences in schools. This book provides the most complete analysis to date of the educational consequences of class size differences, and sets out to solve the puzzling gap between professional experience and research findings.

This book:

  • Examines results from a pioneering research project of international significance, unique in its scale and methodology
  • Investigates the relationships between class size and pupil achievements by detailed examination of classroom processes
  • Considers the view that small classes provide better teaching and learning, and why this is not supported by past research findings
  • Identifies implications for policy at government, LEA and school level, teacher education and professional development
  • Indicates implications for practice - maximising opportunities of small classes and minimising problems in large classes.
Written in an accessible style and drawing upon examples from classroom life, this book is important reading for student and practising primary school teachers, M. Ed and doctoral students, teacher educators, researchers and policymakers.


There has been a vigorous debate about class sizes in schools. On one side of the debate are the enthusiasts who feel very strongly that smaller classes lead to better teaching and more effective learning. Achilles and Finn (2000: 316) have expressed this point very forcefully: 'Class size [reductions] should not just be a cornerstone, but the foundation of educational policy for… early education'. This belief has informed policy in many parts of the world; in the USA, for example, there has been huge investment in class size reductions. On the other side of the debate are the sceptics who argue that the evidence for the efficacy of class size reductions is in doubt and that there are likely to be other more cost-effective strategies for improving educational standards. This book describes a large-scale research project which set out to seek answers to the class size debate. This is not a book which seeks to either proselytize or debunk – rather it seeks to provide a sustained inquiry into the issue, based on a longitudinal study of children's progress over three years after entry into English primary schools. We hope that the book will show the value of research evidence as a main tool in this debate. It is not, though, intended to be exclusively a research report intended for other researchers. Deliberately it is written to be read by all who are interested in this topic: teachers, policy makers in local authorities and government, school governors and parents.

My interest in the class size issue began when Peter Mortimore and I were asked by the National Commission on Education to write a briefing document for them on the educational effects of class size differences (Mortimore and Blatchford 1993). Several things became apparent during our work. In looking at the current facts and figures about class sizes it was clear that there was a problem of large classes at primary level. I do not intend to describe the statistics in detail here (see Blatchford et al. 1998), but it was clear that class sizes were larger on average in primary than in secondary schools. As an example, in 1996 the average class size in England at primary was 27.5 and at secondary level 21.9. This seemed to us to turn on its head what was more sensible educationally – that is, younger children need more support from . . .

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