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Does class size matter? We’ll get a better answer if we rethink the debate

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 November 2020

Peter Blatchford and Anthony Russell.

For many teachers, large classes present problems which adversely affect their practice and their pupils’ learning. This is what our surveys show. But researchers and commentators often have a different view. For them the class size debate can be summed up with the question: does class size affect pupil attainment?

As we show in our new open access book, ‘Rethinking Class Size: The Complex Story of Impact on Teaching and Learning’, published by UCL Press this week, researchers (contrary to a practitioner view) commonly find that the statistical association between class size and attainment is not marked and so conclude that class size does not matter much. This has led some to even suggest that we could raise class sizes, and instead invest savings in professional development for teachers. Currently, in the wake of the Covid pandemic and teacher absences, there are reports of some schools being forced to create supersized classes of 60 pupils.

The view that class size is not important is probably the predominant view among researchers and policy makers, and so they may be relatively relaxed about increases in class size. We therefore need – more than ever – good quality evidence on class size effects, but in our view much research is limited and leads to misleading conclusions.

We identify three problems. (more…)

A word to the wise: what does it mean to be an educated school-leaver?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital21 January 2019

 
IOE Events.
Through our What if… debates we have endeavoured to tackle the big, longstanding debates in education. This month we took on perhaps the biggest of them all: ‘knowledge vs skills’. Recent commentaries have brought greater nuance to the question of whether the school curriculum should focus on building knowledge or on developing skills (or whether they are inextricable). Nevertheless, contrasting views persist on what the school curriculum should deliver.
We started with the question of how best to develop well-prepared and well-rounded school leavers. This meant looking at how the school curriculum can cultivate pupils’ knowledge, but also their understanding,  as well as other desirable dispositions and attributes, such as empathy and good judgement – qualities that when taken together might confer wisdom. What if…, as the title of the event went, our main objective in education was to build wisdom?
To tackle this question (more…)

Enquiring minds: building a picture of how children learn to understand subjects

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 January 2019

 
Arthur Chapman. 
Over the last year and a half or so, my colleagues and I in the UCL Institute of Education’s  Subject Specialism Research Group have been thinking together about schooling and about how children develop and build their knowledge. We have been doing this in collaboration with colleagues from research groups in Karlstad and Helsinki, drawing on differing curricular experiences and traditions of thinking about schools and schooling – work that began to bear fruit in the London Review of Education and that we continue this week through an open seminar at the Institute.
We are fortunate to be engaging in enquiries into subjects and knowing subjects at a time of curriculum innovation and renewal apparent, for example, in the Chartered College’s journal Impact and in Ofsted’s curriculum research. All of this is very encouraging – particularly in contrast with the enthusiasm for generic competencies and the breaking down of‘subject silos’ that was (more…)

Education neuroscience: giving teachers smarter information – not just tomorrow but today

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 June 2018

Michael Thomas.
I could perhaps have been forgiven for viewing with some trepidation the invitation to address a gathering of artificial intelligence researchers at this week’s London Festival of Learning. At their last conference, they told me, they’d discussed my field – educational neuroscience – and come away sceptical.
They’d decided neuroscience was mainly good for dispelling myths – you know the kind of thing. Fish oil is the answer to all our problems. We all have different learning styles and should be taught accordingly. I’m not going to go into it again here, but if you want to know more you can visit my website.
The AI community sometimes sees education neuroscience mainly as a (more…)

Helping the Education Secretary reach her full potential

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 October 2017

John White. 
A central aim of Education Secretary Justine Greening is ‘enabling children to reach their full potential’  . The idea comes into many of her speeches. It appeared in the DfE’s response to the head of OFSTED Amanda Spielman’s complaint on October 11 that the focus on SATs and GCSEs is at the expense of ‘rich and full knowledge’. The response states that ‘Our reforms are ensuring children are taught the knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their potential’.
It’s the kind of phrase that tends to wash over you. It seems no more than a way of saying ‘we want them to do well’ – a politician’s empty comment. But there’s more to it. Ironically for the present government, it was part of the lexicon of the child-centred theorists dominant in teacher training until the 1960s. The London Day Training College, later the Institute of Education, under Percy Nunn and his associates was their main base.
The watchword was ‘development’ and the model was biological. Just as plants grow to (more…)

Just what is ‘evidence-based’ teaching? Or ‘research-informed’ teaching? Or ‘inquiry-led’ teaching?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 March 2017

Lesley Saunders
It is by virtue of being an artist that the teacher is a researcher’ (Lawrence Stenhouse): deepening the connections between research and teaching
I’ve long campaigned for teaching to be a research-engaged profession, on the grounds that, as the brilliant scholar Jean Rudduck put it: ‘research leads teachers back to the things that lie at the heart of their professionalism: pupils, teaching and learning’. John Elliott, an equally distinguished thinker, provides a convincing rationale: ‘the structures of knowledge into which students are to be inducted are intrinsically problematic and contestable, and therefore objects of speculation’ – and consequently teachers have a responsibility to “model” how to treat knowledge as an object of inquiry.’
With the launch of the independent Chartered College of Teaching last month – an organisation by and for teachers to support ‘evidence informed practice’ – this seems a good time to examine what all this means.
Perhaps, though, I ought to start by doing a bit of ground-clearing around definitions. I think the notions of ‘evidence-based’, ‘research-informed’ or ‘inquiry-led’ teaching – (more…)