OECD report sets out benefits of lower class sizes

The most recent report based on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) sheds light on what makes a difference to children’s learning. The report highlights the need to resource disadvantaged schools to the same level or higher than non-disadvantaged schools and outlines how this leads to higher achievement in reading in disadvantaged schools. The report also finds that smaller class sizes, with fewer pupils, make an enormous difference to children’s educational attainment.

In addition, children in mixed-ability groups achieve better in reading than children who are grouped by ability.

The report highlights a number of characteristics of higher-achievement systems such as the benefit of fully qualified teachers, quality pre-school education of more than two years, and fewer gaps in resources between pupils in disadvantaged schools and advantaged schools, including digital resources.

Other elements of such high achievement systems include facilities supporting pupils with homework, regular student assessment to inform and influence instruction and progress, alongside time spent on language teaching.

Shortages of resources were associated with lower achievement. The current pandemic has highlighted the growing inequality in resource provision, particularly digital resources, in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) schools in Ireland.

Responding to the publication of the report, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

Again, and again, we see new international reports set out a compelling case for lower class sizes. At the same time, we rank highest in Europe with supersized primary classes. That needs to change. It’s time we listen to the teachers of Ireland, to the international academics at the OECD, to parents and everyone calling for swift government action. The budget is an opportunity to lower our class sizes by one pupil per class per year. We must not waste this opportunity.