The English Education Minister, Michael Gove, gave a speech on Monday about a range of issues that were concerning him currently. One which attracted media headlines prior to the speech was to do with managing the behaviour of children in state schools by introducing private school methods such as writing lines (I have visions of a painful Harry Potter episode with a blood quill at this point). UPDATE: in effect he has simply updated guidelines for Head Teachers on pre-existing legislation within which it states quite clearly: “section 91 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 says the penalty must be reasonable in all the circumstances.”
This is also a topic which chimes with Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools and I’ve parodied the forthright approach he takes to school inspection in this post. The Ofsted boss has raised the issue of preparing teachers not being given adequate skills in classroom behaviour management and now he has instigated no-notice inspections of state schools to monitor this adult and child behaviour. There’s an interesting blog aimed at teachers about the wider subject by headguruteacher.
This all indirectly relates to UK average class size, which varies considerably between the private and the state sectors at secondary school and is why many British (and overseas) parents sacrifice their income to pay, in some cases, very high school fees – there are other reasons of course. In the independent sector, average classes are as low as about 10 students, and in some cases you could imagine this being even smaller – I’m thinking Eton, where Prime Minister David Cameron and other prominent people went to school. Only Russia, which sends many students to UK private schools, has a comparable figure according to the latest OECD data.
You can also look at historical student to staff ratios, as was done in a recent report by the Social Market Foundation, and these also vary between state and private sectors, but are more difficult to interpret as they depend on what you mean by ‘teacher’ i.e. whether they are ‘qualified’ or not, and how many para-teachers/teaching assistants and FTEs of administration or leadership are included. While ‘qualified’ means being capable of managing a classroom effectively, arguably easier if there are fewer students in it and they are more motivated to learn, this also implies being able to engage knowledgeably and passionately on a sometimes complex topic and so inspire students, whatever their ability or interests, to carry on studying a subject for longer – post16 mathematics in England is a case in point.