Letter to the Minister of Education, from Professor John O'Neill in response to an exchange during question time in parliament.
The effects of class size on teaching and learning (Questions for oral answer, question 12, 8 February 2012)
The effects of class size on teaching and learning
In conclusion, Minister. A dispassionate assessment of all the available research evidence on class size effects clearly shows that the Treasury’s advice is wrong. The evidence also suggests that in order to raise student achievement, the country needs to adopt a different education policy research and development stance entirely on this issue.
Treasury asserts that it is possible to increase student teacher ratios in schools without adversely affecting this complex challenge.
However, the evidence on which this assertion is based is seriously flawed because it fails to take into account what happens to real teaching and learning processes, and student achievement in larger classes.
New Zealand’s student teacher ratios are presently higher than the OECD mean in primary and lower secondary schools, which infers that average class sizes are also larger than the OECD mean.
Naturalistic studies of class size effects on teaching and learning clearly demonstrate multiple links between class size and classroom processes.
These same studies suggest that larger class sizes have the most adverse consequences for the achievement of the very groups of learners the Ministry of Education states are its priorities.
There is no evidence-based justification to increase student teacher ratios in schools. On the contrary, OECD data suggests that priority groups of learners would benefit if ratios were to be reduced further in primary and lower secondary schools.
I would respectfully suggest that the only logical and moral actions open to you are to (i) publicly and forcefully reject the Treasury’s suggestion to increase student teacher ratios; and (ii) ensure that any class size-related policy proposals you may make to Cabinet are founded on thorough, accurate, informed, free and frank policy advice on the known effects of larger class sizes on your priority groups of students.
Nāku noa, nā
John O’Neill, PhD