20 DECEMBER 1975, Page 23



A question of size

Rhodes Boyson

The standstill and eventual cut in public expenditure is beginning to affect local authorities and a very large proportion of local 8, tivernment expenditure is on education. Thus *cal councils and education committees are narthlg to assess the purpose of much education al expenditure. This is no bad thing. .At times of expansion everyone jumps on the handwagon and each sector gets more money nTespective of its real needs or value. The sacred cow of pupil/teacher ratio may even be tackled. Ever since World War II local education chairmen, Department of Education

have and, of course, the teachers' unions a pressed for more and more teachers and a


°Wer pupil/teacher ratio. This has been an act of faith and belief which may now be chal

The size of class is no test because any school can have classes of thirty or forty if a high Pr°Pnrtion of the senior staff are occupied, as in nriany comprehensive schools, on administrative duties or if there are tiny remedial or sixth form cl4sses. Education committees should concentrate on pupil/teacher ratios since large classes are now purely a function of the misuse Of the existing teacher power in the country, in an authority or in a school. , the late nineteenth century there was one teacher assisted by three monitors to 120 Pupils! Between 1900 and 1971 the number of teachers more than trebled to 428,000, 20 per cent of whom were graduates. Between 1950 and 1974 the pupil/teacher ratio fell from 31.1

to 24.9 in primary schools and from 21.7 to 17.5 in secondary schools and the ill-starred Inner London Education Authority has only 14.6 pupils per teacher in its secondary schools, even before an allowance is made for absence of pupils through truancy.

This continued increase in the number of teachers and the decrease in the pupil/teacher ratio has gone hand in hand with declining standards in schools. In business if continued staff increases had simply led to falling output there would have been an investigation or turnabout years ago. Not so in education which has never been rationalistic or accountable in its use of resources! The time has now come, however, to challenge the myth of the advantage of smaller classes.

There are a number of pieces of research — by the European Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, by Dr Alan Little in his British Association Paper 1971, by Joyce Morris in her Standards in Reading, and dozens of others — which show there is no link between size of class and the progress of pupils. The research of the National Children's Bureau into standards at the age of seven of the 11,000 children born in one week of 1958, concluded that children in classes over forty did consistently better at reading and arithmetic than children in classes below thirty.

There are two reasons why more has meant worse. Smaller classes have simply encouraged the introduction of inefficient so-called 'progiessive' methods with less discipline instead of

carefully structured, well-disciplined class teaching. Secondly, the increase in teacher recruitment brought lowered standards of teacher entry. In 1970 only 79 per cent of the men and 61 per cent of the women entering Colleges of Education had passed both GCE '0' level English and mathematics. There are also figures showing that on the average only the lowest quality of university graduates entered teaching in the years of expansion.

The calibre of teacher recruitment is now rising again since the numbers admitted were reduced. Didsbury College has a full entry of two-`A'-level candidates and King Alfred's at Winchester has stepped up considerably their number of two-'A'-level entrants.

Thus the approach of the local education authorities should be clear. They can save money and certainly not depress standards by 'increasing their pupil/teacher ratio while they become much more selective in their teacher recruitment. Parents can be told, "Would you like your son taught by a very capable teacher in a class of thirty or an incompetent or poor teacher in a class of twenty-five?"

The teachers will obviously not approve. For ye irs they have chanted slogans about smaller classes. Doctors would similarly want fewer patients if they were paid the same irrespective of the number on their lists. Teachers must realise, however, that rising or even static standards of reward will depend on better use of their man and woman power and careful selection.

There will have to be large cuts in public expenditure and education will have to take its share. Like a recession in industry this can do good if problems are tackled openly and facts faced. An assessment of educational expenditure as compared with its results has long been overdue and it would be no bad thing if the local authorities started with that very expensive and unproductive item, the pupil/teacher ratio. The return of confidence in Britain will come

• when we turn our backs on myths and face reality. It might be a good idea to start in that great centre of myths — education.