The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?

By Peter Blatchford; Paul Bassett et al. | Go to book overview

6: Class size and children's
attentiveness and peer
relations

The effect of class size on pupils can be considered conceptually in relation to academic progress, but can also be seen in a second way, in terms of social and behavioural adjustment. It might be expected that in larger classes, with more children bidding for the teacher's attention, there will be more distractions and children will be more likely to be inattentive and off-task. Relations between children may also be expected to suffer. In this chapter I examine whether these expectations are justified.

The importance of a child's early social and academic adjustment to school has been recognized in Britain for some time. Research was conducted at the end of the 1970s on factors influencing successful transition into infant and first school (for example Cleave et al. 1982) and nursery school (Blatchford et al. 1982). But a number of factors have led to a renewed interest. Recent initiatives in the UK, for example, regarding school entry assessments (or baseline assessments) have encouraged interest in more precisely assessing children's adjustment to school, soon after entry. Schools in England enter children in the year in which they become 5 years of age, and some of these children are only just 4 years old when they come into school. There are concerns about the appropriateness of existing teaching methods, class sizes and staffing in the case of such young children. Concerns with behaviour and indiscipline in schools have also heightened awareness of problems posed by some young children in school. There appear to be signs that difficult behaviour in schools is increasing. A review of research linking class size with pupil behaviour has suggested that large class sizes are at odds with a wish to improve behaviour in schools (Day et al. 1996).

One theme of several studies is that in smaller classes pupil behaviour is better and classroom management of behaviour is easier. Pate-Bain et al. (1992) report, on the basis of diary records of teachers involved in the pre-STAR research, that in smaller classes there were fewer student interruptions, and potential discipline problems were identified and solved more quickly.

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