Focus on quality over quantity

By Greg Whitby, 25 September 2019
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Media reports about “overcrowded” classrooms get it all wrong. As a stand-alone solution for stronger schools, simply having smaller classes doesn’t stack up. Wouldn’t it be better to look at what really gets results and make that the priority?

An extraordinary amount of public funding has been directed towards decreasing student numbers since the Carr Government funded smaller Kindergarten classes. Yet NAPLAN results show schools with smaller classes haven’t shot ahead of those with higher student-teacher ratios at all.

My own school days featured very large classes expertly (or otherwise) controlled by often rather authoritarian teachers. I’m not advocating a return to these arrangements or the fairly dictatorial teaching style that was all too commonplace! Technology provides so many opportunities to transform learning and teaching: changes to classroom structures are common sense.

Today, class sizes vary from system to system, and from school to school. Within any school, class sizes also vary from grade to grade and year to year based on enrolment demand and other relevant factors such as student needs. The pace of growth in some parts of Sydney sees new schools sprouting and established schools growing to make sure that enrolment needs are met.

Of course, providing extra support when class sizes are larger or individual student needs are higher is a must. This means that students in larger classes often have access to staff and extra resources. We also need to think differently around the way that staff work together, and work with students.

Small class sizes sound alright, but they just don’t deliver results on their own. It’s great teaching, not small class sizes that make the most difference to student learning. There’s no shame in higher student-teacher ratios, but there’s plenty in failing to focus on what will really support learning: good teaching.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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