Libs promise tiny little classes

johnboy 23 July 2008 25

[First filed: July 22, 2008 @ 08:54
Second filing: July 22, 2008 @ 17:50]

They might not actually have a policy about it but that hasn’t stopped the Canberra Liberals making a splash on the ABC and in the Canberra Times promising to cap primary school class sizes at 21 all the way through the primary education system.

The $24 million cost will be funded through “cuts in other areas”, a bad sign for someone.

Whether they can find another 150 teachers at current pay rates also remains to be seen.

Does 21 make that much different to 28 anyway? And is primary school where the most attention is needed?

More on this policy when it’s actually published.

UPDATED: The Chief Minister is having a classic blast at the Liberal policy, pointing to lack of funding, claiming the costing is dodgy, and generally putting in the boot.

Still no sign of the policy on the Canberra Liberals website. There is, however, a sexy big Z. I guess that’s more important.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Still no policy substance, but they did manage to put a lovely slick, simplistic, ad onto WIN News:

Further Update: 24 hours later and they’ve got their ad online and, hooray hooray, have finally published their policy. Key points include:

  • extend the maximum of 21 students per class through all years of primary schools, extending the support given from K-3 right up to year 6 students.
  • delivering training programs that are designed to assist teachers in working effectively with smaller classes.
  • more than restore Labor’s cut to [teacher support] funding with a funding boost of $500,000 this financial year and real annual increases thereafter.
  • restore the 35 high school teaching positions cut by the Stanhope Government in early 2007.
  • create attractive pathways into teaching for mature age professionals who bring valuable skills from outside teaching.
  • provide incentives for high quality graduates to join the ACT government schools system.

One more update for the road: A still incandescent Chief Minister is enraged by the lack of detail for such expensive proposals.

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25 Responses to Libs promise tiny little classes
Sass Sass 10:08 pm 24 Aug 08

“The ones that couldn’t read by year 4 never had a chance. I watched them go through each year and they never caught up. Schools can’t deal with that kind of thing.”

Schools can’t deal with this sort of thing…of course they can’t. Why? O.k. well, if someone is in year 4 and ‘can’t read’ (i assume that this sweeping statement means that they are unable to read anywhere near a level acceptable/desirable for their age) they can receive the benefit of ongoing learning assistance in the classroom and/or by being withdrawn for individual and/or small group instruction. They should also have a teacher who can create a learning program in the classroom that is differentiated so that all can learn. They will probably also have been assessed for learning difficulties so that they can be alternatively placed in a ‘learning support class’ or ‘learning support unit’ which have tiny little class sizes already.

However, if a child with acceptable ‘horsepower’ gets to year 4 (say) and ‘cannot read’ then it is likely more to do with extreme absenteeism, being hungry, having behavioural issues, having home-life issues consuming their thoughts at school etc. etc. No school is adequately equipped to deal with the myriad problems/issues/disasters that these children (and their families – let’s not sell our teachers short by pretending it’s just one individual they are dealing with) bring with them to school. Often, to teach a child to read one must first buy him/her a sandwich!

How can teachers/school counsellors possibly address these issues simply by having reduced numbers in their class? They can’t – but it IS a step in the right direction.

VicePope VicePope 8:05 pm 25 Jul 08

Did you get any response at all from your management or work cover? Unions can be pretty good at times like this. They tend to understand workplace safety issues.

If it could be classed as whistleblowing, which it probably can, it can be taken up with the relevant agency head, the Auditor-General or the Ombudsman. See the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 and the ACT Education guide to it at

Does the ACT version of the Public Service Commission have a role here? (I ask because I do not know). Failing that, there’s a letter to the Minister/Opposition spokesperson.

nyssa76 nyssa76 7:26 pm 25 Jul 08

Yes because taking the piss at an expression is so like ummm….good.

My room’s a fire/safety hazard, I’ve informed the ‘bosses’ and work cover.

Anyone else know where to go on this?

VicePope VicePope 9:48 pm 23 Jul 08

Swinging cats! Looxury! We used to dream of swinging cats back at St Misery’s. We only had this old rat, and it was dead. Of starvation. Not that we would have been allowed to swing it – if we did, Sister Mary Sadist would have thrashed us with her rosary from playlunch to big lunch.

Lenient Lenient 8:44 pm 23 Jul 08

I suppose not building any Al Grasby statues should pay for this policy. Also the lack of such offending artworks will certainly encourage a deluge of teachers to descend on Canberra.

jakez jakez 9:56 am 23 Jul 08

Whoa, I never had a teacher try to swing a cat in my class. Damn substandard edumacation.

nyssa76 nyssa76 7:19 am 23 Jul 08

Thumper, you know as well as I do that some are now retired (indecs is constantly telling us about retirement parties), others were ‘shuffled’ to new schools or left the system entirely. 😛

As a teacher with 31 (32 is the max), let me assure you that a smaller class would work, then again the room I’m in makes it hard to swing a cat let alone provide a suitable learning environment.

When all’s said and done, it’s all smoke and mirrors for the election anyway.

Granny Granny 11:27 pm 22 Jul 08

Smaller class numbers do seem to make a difference, particularly with more vulnerable students, both in terms of individual attention received and a sense of community or connectedness with the school. The new Achievement Centres are going to make use of the smaller sizes to try and rescue students more at risk of dropping out or not receiving a quality education. Apparently they looked at a lot of different systems and models and analysed the different factors contributing to successful outcomes, and the smaller sizes were quite important.

Thumper Thumper 5:56 pm 22 Jul 08

Come to think of it, with all the school closures and more to come, we should have heaps of unemployed teachers champing at the bit!

VicePope VicePope 5:32 pm 22 Jul 08

Jakez – that might be one approach, and it’s probably the one that’s been run in argument more often than others. But it’s got problems that some people will no doubt mention. Tax-deductibility of school fees would be another option. The problem will always be avoiding subsidies to those who don’t need them, while ensuring that those who need support get it.

But I wonder whether the fact that some but not all education is “free” encourages users to undervalue it. A greater degree of cost neutrality between sectors might work better at encouraging all to perform and target niche groups in the market. As an example, and this is a guess, if the ACT opened up single sex high schools in place of co-ed, it might find that some people return to the public system. If it opened a mostly selective, academically oriented school, it would get some people back in. If it promised to ditch the dopes from schools (to get back to my original point), that would help a lot.

(My view assumes that the drift away from government schools is likely to be constant over time, which I think it is. Government can mess around with it, by removing any subsidies and making any form of private education even more expensive but the drift is there and the punters will move to parties that support their aspirations).

jakez jakez 3:15 pm 22 Jul 08

VicePope said :

I am tempted by the heretical thought that “free” education might be a worthy idea whose time is now over.

What do you think of vouchers and trying to engage a competitive structure between private and public schools, while still maintaining taxpayer funding?

VicePope VicePope 12:46 pm 22 Jul 08

I’d guess that it’s not the size of the class (I was in a kindergarten of ninety back when dinosaurs roamed!) but its makeup. Three or four attention seeking loons sap the will of everyone else in a classroom, including the teacher and the unfortunates trying to learn. Get them out and numbers wouldn’t matter so much. (I have suggested a zoo school in the past where all the idiots can be brought together to waste each others’ time).

I agree with everything said about the need to establish a solid base as early as possible. If a child cannot read comfortably by, say, year 4, the odds against any success become overwhelming.

Ultimately, this is a costly promise that will further increase the cost per head of ACT government schools that are already being deserted by anyone who can get out. (In fact, just leave all the teachers in place and eventually the ratio will fall of its own accord). I am tempted by the heretical thought that “free” education might be a worthy idea whose time is now over.

jakez jakez 12:05 pm 22 Jul 08

I’d probably home school my kids if I had the time, but I won’t.

Parents that care about their kids education probably should resign themselves to trying to set their kids up with the best of a bad situation, and being prepared to put a lot of personal time in.

The best thing I can do for my kids when I have them is to ensure they can read and do simple maths before they hit school. The ones that couldn’t read by year 4 never had a chance. I watched them go through each year and they never caught up. Schools can’t deal with that kind of thing.

PM PM 11:58 am 22 Jul 08

Studies can generally prove anything you want them to, but I remember when I experienced small class sizes they were always better than big ones because you received more attention so the allocated work was better targeted.

Smaller class sizes would also make the teacher’s life easier. Slightly less marking, fewer reports etc. It actually frees up time for professional development or encourages teachers to stay in the profession – that might counter some concerns about the number and quality of teachers…?

PeraPHon PeraPHon 11:39 am 22 Jul 08

+1 Thumper. I have a teaching degree also, and I remember the same studies. I also remember my prac teachers telling me how classes used to be smaller and things used to be better.

Quality is also of concern – I remember back in the first week of Uni, all budding teachers were given basic literacy and numeracy tests. The number of people who failed these tests is just scary.

jakez jakez 11:29 am 22 Jul 08

tom-tom: I’m not sure the education union is the best place to go to determine the best use of resources. However I’ll quote the spokespersons actual comment.

“Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Penny Gilmore welcomed the Opposition’s plans but said the more serious concern was high school classes for years 7 to 10, which regularly exceeded 30 students when they should be 27 to 28 students at most.

”Anything that reduces class sizes is a welcome initiative and we would encourage the Opposition to look at what they might be able to do to relieve the pressure on class sizes in high schools,” Ms Gilmore said.

She said while older generations might remember being in classes with more than 30 students without there being concerns, new teaching methods meant smaller classes were better.”

tom-tom tom-tom 11:10 am 22 Jul 08

feebles; i agree that SES is a much better indicator of ‘success’ then class sizes etc…… but wouldn’t policies aimed at improving the SES be more effective? A kid can have a great time in a small class for 6 hours a day; but then come home to good knows what for the other 18. i cant see how being in a small class is going to help little johnny when his dads missing; his mums stoned and he’s caring for little johnita by himself. i say put the resources into programs aimed at creating a more stable homelife for little johnny so that he at least has a chance in school.

johnboy johnboy 11:07 am 22 Jul 08

I personally suspect that the ACTs higher scores have more to do with parents teaching their kids to read at home than the system itself.

tom-tom tom-tom 11:04 am 22 Jul 08

there are a few studies which do show a positive correlation between small class sizes/high test scores etc but those studies tend to be based on changing cohort sizes (ie more/fewer kids; same number of teachers)rather than more teachers same number of kids. I was selective and only pointed out the latter kind of study because they’re the ones which more closely replicate zeds plan.

(just as an aside i’m fairly confident ACT students are always near the top of the tree come graduation time; ( ie the system already delivers good outcomes) hardly evidence of a system which needs an urgent overhaul)

Feebles Feebles 10:59 am 22 Jul 08

I think finding teachers might be a challenge, but if they can be found, more help at primary school will make a huge difference later on. I’ve been tutoring high school kids with maths for the last couple of years, and am kind of horrified at the lack of fundamental skills most of these kids have. When did things like knowing your times tables go out of style? They can’t do simple sums without a calculator.

People make a big song and dance about how people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are underrepresented at university. This is true. But the reason is they are not getting high enough tertiary entrance ranks (or whatever those are called these days). For a given TER, a low SES background person has the same likelihood of going to uni as a high SES background person. The gaps open up in early schooling, and I think this policy may have a chance of addressing this. They need early intervention.

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