Why small is beautiful at King Richard School

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For years, the debate has raged over the size of classes in our schools. The more children studying a subject together, the less likely that individuals will achieve their full potential, goes the argument.

There can be few who would doubt the truth of that and, if proof were needed, it surely comes in the shape of core exam subjects at one Portsmouth secondary.

GCSE results in English and mathematics at King Richard School in Paulsgrove have shown a huge improvement after head teacher Adam Dare decided to invest more of his available funds in increasing the number of teachers in those subjects and therefore, for children starting out at the school and those about to take their exams, decreasing the size of classes.

His limit of just 15 pupils per teacher is way down on the national average. It goes without saying that individual children get more of the teacher’s time – and the resultant improvement in examination results surely cannot be a coincidence.

Mr Dare is certain that the one has led to the other, and has committed himself to continuing to keep pupil-teacher ratios as they are for those crucial years at the start and finish of an individual’s life at King Richard.

It’s telling that he draws the comparison with class sizes at expensive private schools such as Eton, where the Prime Minister was educated.

Mr Dare is absolutely right to say that all children deserve the best possible chance in life however privileged or not their background.

It would be fanciful thinking to imagine that one day all youngsters would be educated at the same schools. Apart from anything else, private fee-paying education is here to stay because money talks.

But the example of the Paulsgrove head teacher who found money elsewhere in his budget to finance the big drop in class sizes is one that is worth other heads taking note of. Eton-educated Mr Cameron must play his part too, ensuring schools have sufficient funds to give all children every chance of success.

the Prime made a commitment to all year seven pupils that English and maths lessons would be limited to class sizes of just 15.

The same applied to English students in their final year of GCSEs who would normally expect sit in a class of up to 26 – and exam results soared from 35 to 43 per cent of all pupils achieving five of more A* to C GSCEs including English and maths.

Headteacher Adam Dare said: ‘I am in no doubt that our class size guarantee has contributed to an 18 per cent rise in A* to C English GCSE pass rates to 59 per cent this year – and it’s here to stay.

‘For a school our size it would be normal to have six of each, but today we have 11 maths and 11 English teachers who are doing a fantastic job.

‘The core of good progress is good teaching but it’s hard to provide good teaching in a big class, because children need individual support and they need to have their voices heard in the classroom.

‘If all you’re expecting from students is a C grade, then you can afford to have 30-odd class sizes. But if you want them to achieve to their full potential and aiming for the As and A*s, less is more.’

While schools are often criticised for focusing on lifting the D students to a C to improve league table ratings, Mr Dare says he is aiming for the top grades so his school-leavers can aspire to the best universities.

He said: ‘We want more of our kids thinking “when I leave here I’m going to go to University College London or Cambridge. If you say C is good enough our bright children won’t push themselves.

‘If you were at Eton like our Prime Minister you wouldn’t expect to be in a class of 30 – if small class sizes is good enough for Mr Cameron, it’s good enough for our kids.’

This year, King Richard School recorded 120 A* and A grades, with 14 students achieve five or more A* and As compared with seven last year.

Mr Dare says in a perfect world he could apply the small class guarantee to all subjects, but chose year sevens to give them ‘the best possible start’.

Lily-May McQuilken, 15, is a year 11 pupil and says she has already noticed the difference with her smaller class size.

She said: ‘Last year there were 26 of us in an English lesson and our teacher didn’t have enough time to come round to everybody in the classroom but now that’s changed – it feels much more personal.

‘The smaller class size has also given me extra confidence to speak out in class and raise any questions I have.

‘I’m so pleased to have this opportunity in my last year as it’s going to be an important one for me!’

by ALINE NASSIF

Education reporter x