Smaller classes in question

Reducing class sizes may not necessarily lead to improved educational performance, France’s advisory Haut Conseil de l’Evaluation de l’Ecole has warned, throwing doubt on a 30-year-old pillar of national education policy. The report, delivered in March to the French education minister, Jack Lang, said that smaller class sizes can have an effect in underprivileged areas, but only at primary level and only if the cut is drastic.

Pre-primary class sizes in France fell from an average 43.7 children to 25.5 between 1966 and 1999, while primary school class sizes fell from 28 to 22.3 as successive governments sought to cut sizes to improve performance.

Primary classes would have to go well below 20 pupils for significant results to show, the report claims. That would be costly, at some 300 million francs a year to achieve an average class size of 18 in underprivileged areas. The report recommended testing the success of such small classes to determine whether the results justified this kind of spending, and suggested that other methods of boosting educational success rates, such as targeted aid for individual students and more teacher training, might be more cost-effective.

©OECD Observer No 225, March 2001 

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