SMALLER classes do nothing to help primary school children perform better in maths, English and science, according to new government-funded research which undermines one of Labour’s key education policies.
Academics at the University of London found that class size had no impact on progress in the subjects among nine and 10-year-olds.
The Scottish Executive has pledged to reduce primary one class sizes to 25, and maths and English classes in the first two years of secondary school to 20 by 2007, while in England the government has made it a legal requirement that five to seven-year-olds are not taught in groups of more than 30.
Yesterday The Scotsman revealed how the Executive will launch a recruitment drive in New Zealand, Australia and Canada as it seeks to increase the number of teachers to 53,000 by 2007 to help it fulfil its class size pledge.
But the University of London research, which was published yesterday on the Department for Education and Skills website, challenged the conventional wisdom that pupils do better in smaller classes.
Researchers at the university’s institute of education found that pupils in year six - 11-year-olds - actually made more progress if they were in larger classes.
A summary of their report said: "No evidence was found that children in smaller classes made more progress in mathematics, English or science."
However, teachers who took part in the survey insisted that their job was made much easier if class sizes were smaller.
"Pupils in smaller classes were more likely to be the focus of a teacher’s attention and experience more teaching overall in mathematics, while in larger classes pupils were more likely to be one of the crowd," the report said.
"Many teachers worry that in large classes they cannot meet the needs of all the children in their class."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive insisted ministers remained determined to reduce class sizes. She said: "We’ve made our commitments very clear and we have set clear targets in primary one and in maths and English in the early years of secondary. We’re making progress and are introducing significant extra resources and teachers."
Meanwhile, The Scotsman has learned that union officials are to meet in a fortnight to decide whether to press ahead with industrial action over class sizes. The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), agreed at its annual conference last June to ballot on strike action if the Executive made insufficient progress on class size reduction by the end of the year.
More than 100 EIS delegates from across the country will meet on 21 January to decide whether or not to carry out their threat. Ronnie Smith, the general secretary of the EIS, said: "The delegates will consider reports on what has been going on since last year and decide whether sufficient progress has been made."