Small classes 'not world we're working in'

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 08/07/2014

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Convincing parents their children learn better in open-plan classrooms with dozens of pupils and multiple teachers can be a tough sell for schools, a Christchurch principal says.

At Pegasus Bay Primary School all 420 pupils were part of shared teaching and learning spaces and principal Roger Hornblow said about 80 per cent of parents understood it.

The school's new approach to teaching has been heralded as the way of the future by the Government - in direct contrast to the Labour Party's education policy announcement at the weekend of smaller class sizes.

"The same skills are still being taught but the way they're being taught is different," Hornblow said.

"Bringing ratios down to one teacher to 23 kids would be great but it's not the world we're working in."

He said it was more than just three teachers working with 75 kids.

"It's three sets of eyes picking up on any negative or off-task behaviour. It's more help to answer questions, and the collaboration between staff is going on 24/7."

Modern learning environments push teachers, pupils and parents boundaries. Parents have no personal experience to bring to it and there's those parents that are knockers with these sorts of things as well."

Teachers were also in foreign territory and job descriptions were changing as a result to better reflect the environment they were working in.

"Collaboration has been added in to job descriptions and it's no longer just about being a good teacher - you have to be a good team member as well," Hornblow said.

An improved teacher to pupil ratio in a modern learning environment would be a best-case scenario, he said.

New Zealand Principals' Federation spokesman Paul Drummond agreed that the Government and Labour's policies together made the most sense.

But the flexibility of modern teaching did not change the fact that teachers needed to personalise programmes to individual children's needs, he said. If larger groups of pupils were working together, the real benefit was one teacher being freed up to work with smaller groups of children with special needs or providing one-on-one time.

"Resources are more flexible in that environment than when you have one class and one teacher."

Drummond said parents needed to be reassured lots of children and a few teachers in one space didn't mean "a whole heap of chaos with kids just wandering around aimlessly".

Kahurangi School in Wellington has built open learning spaces but was yet to transition to the new collaborative teaching style.

Principal Kyran Smith said it took time to make changes, and though she saw merits in the system, the school was still considering how it would work.

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