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Home > Research Articles > Smaller Primary School Classes 'Make Children More Aggressive'

The Sunday Telegraph London

Sunday, March 2, 2003

The Sunday Telegraph London - March 02, 2003

SMALLER CLASS sizes could be creating a generation of more aggressive pupils who find it difficult to make friends, according to official research.

The finding that smaller classes could be worse for children's social development is contained in a report by academics from London University, whose work was funded by the Department for Education.

Although there is evidence that the reduction in the numbers taught by a teacher in primary schools is helping to boost achievement, the report suggests that there might be a psychological cost to pupils.

It says that its research found a "consistent tendency for worse peer relations in terms of aggression and rejection of peers in the smallest classes".

The report adds: "There were signs that relationships between children are worse in small classes with fewer than 20 children. Smaller classes may be better academically but not necessarily socially.

Prof Peter Blatchford, the head of Psychology and Human Development at London University's Institute of Education, confirmed that his three-year study, which followed the progress of 10,000 four to seven-year-olds, had found a link between smaller classes and worse peer relations.

"There may be academic benefits of smaller classes but we need to be careful that we are not overlooking the social aspects of classroom life and I think that teachers should be aware of that," he said.

The professor, whose report, Statistics of Education: Class Sizes and Pupil Teacher Ratios in England, will be published by the Office for National Statistics, said that pupils in smaller classes spent longer trying to get their teacher's attention and less time playing with one another.

"One possibility is that in larger classes children spend more time with one another and are thrown back onto their own resources. In smaller classes it may be that pupils spend more time bidding for the teacher's attention and less time interacting with each other."

He added, however, that the apparently poorer conduct might be explained by the fact that teachers in small classes were more easily able to detect bad behaviour among their pupils.

Dinah Morley, the deputy director of Young Minds, a children's mental health charity, offered another explanation.

She said that children could also be finding it harder to make friends in smaller classes because there was less choice of playmates.

"It's about finding that one other child that you gel with and becomes your chum. In classes where there are less than 20 children it seems that the process of pairing up becomes more difficult, probably just because there is a smaller pool of potential friends to choose from.

"Children that don't gel with another pupil are then more likely to be unhappy and to become aggressive," Mrs Morley added.

Official recognition of the adverse social consequences of smaller primary class sizes might be deeply unwelcome to ministers. Tony Blair made the reduction of class sizes to 30 pupils or under for five, six and seven-year-olds a manifesto pledge in 1997. The commitment was one of five to be included on Labour's "pledge card".

(C) 2003 The Sunday Telegraph London. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved