The average class size has continued to increase since 2015. This is no surprise to anyone who has ever been to school. Today you can walk through the halls of an inner London school and hear 35 children shouting. This is not news. If there was a riot then the teachers would lose quickly and easily.
Class sizes have continued to grow, even quicker than Donald Trump’s ego. There is a disconnect across the United Kingdom. Some teachers arrive at work to find 18 children staring back and others arrive to find that 35 chairs are not enough.
The ideal class size is between 18 and 24 children. Most schools are lucky to see any classes below 30 and so you have to ask yourself when it will stop? In a hundred years time will we see class sizes of 60? Has the arrival of COVID-19 lead to a rise of homeschooling, which in turn will reduce class sizes? Has COVID-19 prompted more people to leave the cities, in turn distributing children in a fairer manner?
What is the perfect class size?
A classroom containing 18–24 students appears to be the ideal number, he says. This is because teachers don’t usually adjust their teaching style to smaller class sizes, and anything less and you lose the unique excitement that comes from a critical mass of engaged students.
Edcentral.uk, Do smaller class sizes really improve student outcomes?
According to the statement above it is between 18 and 24. This number creates a large enough mass to produce engaging less, where children learn from each other. If the class size was smaller or bigger then that unique excitement would be lost.
This is one school of thought. It also takes into account the current mindset. The use of ‘teachers don’t usually adjust their teaching style to smaller class sizes’ is something that is rooted in schools from the last 50 years. During Victorian times class sizes averaged between 70 and 80 pupils.
There could be as many as 70 or 80 pupils in one class, especially in cities. The teachers were very strict. Children were often taught by reading and copying things down, or chanting things till they were perfect.
Primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk, Victorian Schools
We often see class sizes of above 30 as being too large for teachers to work effectively in. Seeing that Victorian schools dealt with more does rather challenge this ideal.
During Victorian times teachers were respected more than they are today. They would not be expected to deal with as many issues as modern teachers are. With this in mind, we need to ask the question of, is the class size what is important, or the level of respect for teachers?
Has COVID-19 led to a rise in homeschooling?
A poll by the online agency childcare.co.uk, which surveyed 5,000 parents, found that 30% were not planning to send their children back to school. Of those, 91% said they would continue with homeschooling for the foreseeable future, or until a vaccine is found.
The poll above was taken before September. At this time the fear of uncertainty, as to sending children back to school was prevalent across the country.
Schools have now been back for a month and whilst some parents have relented, fears of a second wave remain. Many parents have continued to homeschool their children. This is something that is perhaps aided by the fact that one parent in the homestead may no longer be working.
Regardless of the numbers, there has been an increase. More children are remaining at home, with 88% children reporting to school the first day back.
There are currently 10,320,811 full and part time pupils at school in the UK. 8,819,765 in England, 468,838 in Wales, 693,251 in Scotland, 338,957 in Northern Ireland.
Besa.org.uk, Key UK Education Statistics
The figures above were taken from 2018/19. 12% of the total figure above is 1.24 million. This is a rough figure as the percentages are rounded up and the data is from two school years ago. It does illustrate how many children did not turn up for school when the doors were once again opened.
A few weeks have passed since then but we can safely say that at 75% of these students will still be at home. This makes a final total of around 930,000 school children that are now being homeschooled. COVID-19 has shifted the balance.
Will lower city numbers distribute students in a fairer manner?
In addition to the increase in homeschooling, families have begun to leave the cities.
A YouGov poll, conducted exclusively with The Independent, found many people, at a range of ages and stages in life (some homeowners, other renters), were considering moving further afield because of remote working.
The Independent, Escape to the Country
Remote working and restricted living has seen many families look again at their situation. Rather than paying inflated rental prices, they have seen that they can improve their lives by fleeing to the country. At present they are also able to keep their wages as they are, how long this will last is anyone’s guess, but the opportunity remains.
With restricted living people have spent more time at home. For many families, this has helped them realise that they can get more for their money outside of London. They will in turn take their children with them, which will increase class sizes outside of London, and reduce pressure on teachers in the city.
A final thought
Victorian classrooms saw up to 80 children crammed into one small space. This was not a problem as the discipline was instilled from a young age. Teachers were respected to an absolute level and children rarely stepped out of line. This meant that large class sizes were easily possible.
Today, class sizes are less than half that figure, but teachers struggle. Children have a wider range of support requirements and education is not the only part of a teacher’s job. Safeguarding, mental health and assessing needs are just three of the additional requirements expected today. Add a disruptive child or two and that class of 40 can look like a charging army.
Between 18 and 24 pupils seems to be a good size for classes today. This number ensures flexibility for the teacher. They can dedicate more time to the children that need it and ensure engagement from all those in attendance.
The arrival of COVID-19 will hopefully lead to a distribution of pupils across the United Kingdom that is more standardised. This will reduce pressure on children and lead to greater staff retention.