Kirsty Williams writes… Welsh Lib Dems to deliver key election pledge

Time and time again parents and teachers tell us that they are concerned about class sizes.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have listened to these concerns, looked at the international evidence, and in Government can today announce a new £36m fund to address infant class sizes.

Evidence shows a positive connection between smaller class sizes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. We want to create the space for teachers to teach, pupils to learn and better support all of our students.

This investment, linked to our other reforms, will:

  • Improve early years’ attainment;
  • Have a significant impact for poorer and disadvantaged pupils; and
  • Support teachers to be innovative and increase pupil engagement.

Too often the discussion on class sizes contracts to a false choice between smaller classes and other education improvement policies. I don’t accept this narrow view of class sizes as an irrelevant factor in the performance and well-being of our young people.

But, nor do I offer it as a magic bullet for our education system. It is not a policy that will be delivered in isolation.

We agreed to take a cabinet position in the Welsh Government to deliver education reform as a National Mission. To get the health of our nation and our economy right, we must first get our education system right.

Alongside reducing infant class sizes, we are also transforming initial teacher education, launching new professional standards, and introducing a national approach to professional learning and development. We have also recently announced the introduction of a Leadership Academy, a Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge, to prepare all our leaders with the right skills and knowledge to benefit pupils.

Having reviewed international research and evidence, it shows that the effects of a reduction in class sizes are greatest in the youngest age groups. Studies by the Institute of Education and leading universities and institutes in North America also show that the impact is stronger for pupils from poorer and/or minority language backgrounds.

A reduction has the largest effect when accompanied by changes and reforms to teaching and pedagogy. International best practice continues to guide my reforms – it’s such a shame that counterparts in the English government ignore evidence in favour of groundhog-day dogma such as grammar school expansion.

Therefore, based on the evidence, our investment of both revenue and capital funding will target schools with the largest class sizes, where teaching and learning needs to improve, where there are high levels of deprivation and where English/Welsh is not the first language.

As a party, we have always believed that local decisions should be made by local people. That is why I will be asking schools and local authorities, via regional consortia, to put together business cases on behalf of their schools, to apply for this investment. Each business case would have to include specific outcomes in relation to improvements in performance, attendance and teacher/pupil ratios and sustainability.

Today, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are responding to the concerns of parents and teachers, delivering a made in Wales policy shaped by international evidence, and guaranteeing £36m of investment that will reduce infant class sizes so that we raise standards for all.

* Kirsty Williams AM is Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government

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5 Comments

  • David Evershed 24th Jan '17 - 4:42pm

    A coalition Government report in 2011 determined that class size was not particularly important compared with teacher effectiveness.

    An extract of the report conclusion reads:
    “Section 4 summarised the larger and more robust studies on the importance [or otherwise] of class size. Class size is found to have some positive impact on attainment and behaviour, but this effect is often small and diminishes after a few years. The value for money of class size reduction policies therefore needs to be assessed relative to other potential options, such as improving teacher effectiveness. Section 5 has shown that average class size varies amongst the OECD countries. The UK is ranked as having large average class sizes for primary schools and has smaller average class sizes for secondary schools in comparison to other OECD countries. However, there is no clear relationship between a country’s average class size and attainment.”

    See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/183364/DFE-RR169.pdf

  • paul holmes 24th Jan '17 - 8:43pm

    An excellent initiative Kirsty, combined with what you are doing on teacher effectiveness and Leadership.

    Also very pleased to see that the mistakes of presentation made in the Westminster coalition are not being repeated in Wales.

  • It’s really interesting to see a little bit of where the evidence for the new policy has come from and it will also be interesting to see the hopefully positive outcomes come over the next years and decades.

  • Sue Sutherland 25th Jan '17 - 4:04pm

    Good news.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Jan '17 - 11:09pm

    What is the Liberal Democrat content in the representations that the Labour First Minister and the PC leader made on Brexit?

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