Parents like small classes, says union

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 06/08/2014

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Palmerston North schools are already taking steps to shrink class numbers, in line with Kiwi parents' wishes, according to an education union.

A Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) survey on class sizes in New Zealand shows most people, whether they're parents or not, want them to be smaller.

The review asked 750 people what they thought should be the maximum number of students in a class, with 83 per cent saying there should be 25 students or fewer and 45 per cent of those saying the highest number should be only 20.

"Class size has always been a major issue for teachers and these results confirm it is a major issue for parents too," PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker said.

The concept of smaller classes has already been adopted at Ross Intermediate, which has guaranteed families that as of next year, the school's class sizes will drop to 23.

The change would see up to nine fewer children in classrooms compared with some other year 7 and 8 education providers, principal Wayne Codyre has said.

The shake-up could be achieved by changing how the school's specialist programmes worked.

The Labour Party has also grabbed hold of concerns about class sizes as part of its election policy announcements, promising to employ 2000 extra teachers and cut class sizes if it comes to power.

This would see numbers shrink from 29 to 26 in primary and intermediate classes and from 26 to 23 in secondary schools.

The party's education spokesperson Chris Hipkins has said smaller classes meant more attention for each student and more chances of meaningful help and encouragement. But Education Minister Hekia Parata has said the idea of reducing class sizes "at the margin" was proven to achieve little in terms of better results for Kiwi kids.

Private schools prided themselves on ability to provide smaller-sized classes for pupils, which was often a drawcard for parents.

Carncot School, an independent primary and intermediate school, has a maximum of 24 students in middle and senior classes and between 18 to 20 pupils in junior classes.

"Our evidence shows us that our smaller class sizes do make a difference simply because the teacher is able to give individual attention to the child," principal Christine Michalski said.

"This has a big impact on the outcomes for each child.

"Today the teacher is seen as the facilitator of learning, with the child at the centre, and with smaller numbers, the teacher is able to sit with the child, inquire into their thinking and then see where help or extension is needed."

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Smaller classes were just one aspect in a range of what parents were interested in and what pupils needed, Michalski said.

- Manawatu Standard

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