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Class Size and Teacher Quality

One of the most emotional topics when it comes to primary school education is class size. Some parents are often concerned about the size of the class and the impact that the number of children will have on their own individual child’s learning journey. Research would suggest that the difference one or two children make in a class size is negligible. What does have significant bearing on a child’s educational journey and their progress is the quality of the teacher.


Of course, if there is a significant discrepancy in a class size then the impact of the numbers may have an impact. For example, if one year 3 class has 20 students and one year 3 class has 30 students then the difference in numbers may have an impact on the individual students’ learning as the teacher has 50% more students to provide a high-quality education. I would suggest that that size difference does not seem like a fair model and would be very hard to justify as a school leader, unless of course those 20 students had the needs equivalent to the needs of 30 students. 

It is critical that when we assess the number of students in a class and the impact that they all have on each other’s learning, that we do address and we are conscious of their needs. For example, if you had a class of 20 students and they had significant learning needs, they may have learning challenges, or they may be a class of gifted students, then the demands they placed on a teacher could well be equivalent to a class of 30 “average” students. So, it is not necessarily of the number of students in a class that impacts on the learning. It is the needs those students bring to the table in a class. It is also the quality of the teacher which has significant bearing on the students’ learning progress. If parents are concerned about how many children are in the class, my response to them is often in relation to the quality of the teacher that we’re going to provide. The research would suggest that the one or two students in a class makes minimal difference to the overall performance of individual students.


In an ideal world it would be perfect if we had high quality brilliant teachers in every classroom. That is not the reality. The reality is you will have some teachers who are far more engaged with the learning journey, who are far more knowledgeable with current pedagogical practices, who are far more responsive to the needs of all the students in their class, who can differentiate more effectively, compared to those teachers who may be disengaged, who have retired but not told the boss and still turn up everyday, who are filling in time by coming to work, who were once energetic and engaged but who are now struggling to find the joy in teaching. The bottom line is we need the best teachers in front of our students because they have significant impact on a child’s learning journey. So, parents my advice is not to worry about the class size but worry about the quality of teacher you have in front of your students.

Parents have the right to know how their child’s teacher will be meeting the individual learning needs of their child. When parents form a judgement as to the quality of their children’s teachers, parents often use arbitrary measures to judge whether they believe a teacher is “good” or otherwise. At this point it is important to note that what makes one teacher a “good” teacher for one student may not necessarily be the qualities that other students will respond to in a profitable way. There are some common qualities that all “good” teachers possess and these are the qualities that parents TRUST teachers to provide. 

High quality “good” teachers will know and understand students; they will know the curriculum; they will know the appropriate pedagogy (how to teach the curriculum) and how to differentiate the curriculum; they will be good communicators with parents, student and colleagues. “Good” teachers will strive for improvement in every student’s learning. They will have goals for each student and be able to empower the students to ‘own’ their learning. 

When parents judge the quality of their children’s teacher based on if their child is happy, I offer a word of caution. A child may be happy and not be learning. A child may enjoy the experiences that the ‘fun’ teacher provides but the child may not be learning as they should or could. 

Ideally, we want students to be engaged, learning and happy. We want great teachers in front of students and all the resources available to provide a high-quality education for all students, regardless of the number of students in the class.

Contributor: Andrew Oberthur

Andrew Oberthur is the father of two teenagers and a primary school principal with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane.

In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year? which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website www.creativecollaborativesolutions.net

He has been on ABC Brisbane radio a few times this year, as well as doing podcasts for PakMag.

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