Jonathan Milne

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

National standards shock: Better grades in bigger classes

Survey shows size no barrier to good grades.

Children from the Bucklands Beach Primary School cross the road under the close guidance of a teacher. Photo / APN
Children from the Bucklands Beach Primary School cross the road under the close guidance of a teacher. Photo / APN

Primary schools have disclosed controversial data about pupil achievement, with the surprise revelation that children in bigger classes and bigger schools get better grades.

The Herald on Sunday has conducted a comprehensive survey of schools' national standards results, before the Ministry of Education publishes them this week.

At schools with fewer pupils for each teacher, around 70 per cent of children are achieving national standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. But at schools with more pupils for each teacher - in effect, bigger classes - the pass rates rise to about 80 per cent.

So too with school rolls: the highest proportions of children achieving or exceeding national standards are at big schools.

Ministry of Education data indicates Bucklands Beach Primary School has nearly 24 pupils for every full-time-equivalent teacher, creating the potential for some of the biggest primary classes in the country.

Principal Dorothy Bodley has spoken of the effects of a fast-growing roll - they have 439 pupils this year. But 87 per cent of their pupils achieved national standards in reading last year, and writing and maths numbers are almost as good.

National standards and class sizes have been the hottest potatoes Education Minister Hekia Parata has handled. Now, she believes she has been somewhat vindicated in her attempt to raise class sizes, an attempt that failed as she bowed to parent and teacher anger.

Parata is not familiar with Bucklands Beach school, but said it proved good teaching was more important than small classes.

"I went to Manutahi School in Ruatoria. I got in touch with my old teacher there recently, and he told me there were 46 children in my class, and that wasn't the biggest class in the school," she said. "We got taught well."

Parata promised last month that national standards data would be published on the educationcounts.govt.nz website in the format that schools' submitted it.

But now she acknowledges school complaints that the ministry has forced them to fiddle their data to fit into the tables the ministry requires.

She rejected any suggestion, though, that the ministry was formatting the data to enable league tables: "I'm not publishing a league table, I'm publishing public achievement information."

The Herald on Sunday has opted to not publish ranked league tables.

- Herald on Sunday

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