Small is beautiful: A consideration of the advantages presented by small class sizes and small schools.
When prospective parents visit school for the first time one common question is ‘how big are your classes?’
Parents have a clear sense that the smaller teaching groups within a smaller school will bring major advantages to their child’s education, academic achievement, and consequently greater opportunities for future life success.
For these observations I am going to consider that a small school is any number that allows the Headteacher to know each child by name and to make a genuine connection; and observe that I make it a point of being able to meet and greet every child and family arriving at the school gate each and every morning. This is just part of the culture of the school and leads to a whole host of positive outcomes with pupil’s recognizing that they are individually important to the Head and to the school.
When I meet families from larger schools, children and parents often comment that they do not meet their Head on a regular basis. So why have we allowed our schools to grow? In the last 50 years schools have become ever larger; and whilst this may be supported by economists seeking economy-of-scale, education leaders now recognise that large institutions tend to be impersonal and bureaucratic - treating their community of students and staff as numbers rather than distinctive individuals with unique needs. This is a trend now strongly in reverse with an ever-increasing number of small schools.
The advantages of small schools are well recorded; these tend to be characterized by a more intimate and personalized learning environment, a greater sense of unity and a cohesive vision among teachers and parents alike.
As Head of a small school I particularly value that there are often more opportunities for children to participate. In a large school, competition is fierce for a coveted few spots on the sports team; those who make the team gain a personal investment in the school, while those who don’t make the team —and their families —may walk away feeling marginalized. In smaller schools the chance for participation is repeatedly higher because all of us are required rather than redundant; as a result, children and their families develop a greater sense of belonging.
Smaller school size is consistently related to stronger and safer school communities, providing environments that are less fearful and alienating for students and teachers alike.
Logically smaller schools typically have smaller classes and I cannot stress highly enough that what is most important for your child’s education is what happens in their classroom. Low teacher-pupil ratios translate into a more learner-centered atmosphere and more focus on your child and his/her individual education.
In the small class setting teachers can cater to a wider array of learning styles. Importantly children who find classroom learning difficult and are easily overlooked (or perhaps even bullied) in larger classes can find individual attention in a small class environment and thus be nurtured through their formative years.
It is critical to keep class sizes as small as possible to ensure that children receive the attention that they need to boost achievement, engagement and success. Children in small classes have greater opportunities for active learning, to develop leadership and social interaction skills.
A smaller class size is good because it offers the opportunity to delve deeper into the curriculum and move through it at a faster pace, this may be the biggest advantage for children who are inattentive and try to avoid looking the teacher in the eye. It may also be true that this style of classroom environment is most likely to benefit those children further from the average level of learning, whether they are more advanced or in need of extra support.
Smaller classes are equally beneficial from a social standpoint—fewer children in the room make class participation inescapable, but also usually less intimidating. Sometimes in a large school setting it’s too easy for a student to get lost - particularly students who don’t fit the norm. The more social and emotional challenges your child experiences in school, the more they have to gain from a smaller class setting.
So what is the right size? When it comes to school size, there is no right size that works for every child.
For parents approaching a school I suppose the logical question is are you comfortable in a large classroom or would you prefer smaller classes where your teacher actually knows you? Being known by your teachers and peers makes a difference.
I am fortunate to work in a school that brings all of the advantages that we have noted of a small school, with some of the advantages that are associated a larger school. We serve a diverse international student body with a varied representation of ethnicities. We offer a rich, broad and balanced curriculum that students are able to master, and this is supported by a great extra-curricular programme. At the same time are small enough that students are well known by a quality teaching team that is able to work with students in exciting, compelling and diverse ways.
Size alone does not determine a school’s success, but it certainly can be a contributing factor to the success of your child.
Written by Mr. Timothy Cooper, Primary Headteacher
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