Go Treasury go

March 21st, 2012 at 9:42 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt reports at Stuff:

More accountability for teachers and larger class sizes are again on the political agenda as Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf shapes up for a scrap with unions.

He was urged yesterday by a teachers’ union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, to “stick to his knitting” after he went on the offensive, saying it was the quality of teachers that made the greatest difference to student achievement.

Here’s what’s funny. I would have thought a teachers’ union would absolutely agree that the quality of teachers makes the greatest difference to student achievement. They should be proud of the fact, and trumpeting it about how important teachers are.

Research suggested the impact on student learning of a “high-performing teacher” compared with an average teacher was “roughly equivalent” to the effect of a 10-student decrease in class size, Mr Makhlouf said.

So a good teacher with a 30 person class will be as effective as an average teacher with a 20 person class.

He suggested “a number of ways” to assess teacher quality, including in-class observations by other teachers, direct observations by principals, and feedback from students and parents.

At almost every school, students and staff know who are the most and least effective teachers. I certainly knew as a student at Rongotai College. Mr Jackson, Mr Reid, Mr Wilson were all great teachers, and all their students talked about how great they were.

A boost in class sizes of one or two students per classroom could free cash to invest more in quality teachers, he said.

Until we are out of deficit mode, extra funding is limited. So yes I agree investing more in quality teachers is more important than class sizes (within reason).

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39 Responses to “Go Treasury go”

  1. Pete George (23,602 comments) says:

    The teacher who I regard as my one of my best, who didn’t just teach textboks but also inspired thought, didn’t stick with it for long.

    Grahame Sydney left teaching to go painting.

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  2. kowtow (8,524 comments) says:

    And students need to be accountable too. Disruptive students should be subject to quick meaningful discipline early so that everyone can get on with their education.

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  3. Sofia (858 comments) says:

    Mr Jackson, Mr Reid, Mr Wilson were all great teachers, and all their students talked about how great they were.

    Is the reason that you, David, do not name any bad teachers one indication why staff who know the most and least effective teachers do not name those who perform poorly ?

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  4. simonway (387 comments) says:

    it was the quality of teachers that made the greatest difference to student achievement.

    But this is known to be untrue. While teachers are the most significant in-school factor, student achievement is most affected by out-of-school factors like poverty.

    So a good teacher with a 30 person class will be as effective as an average teacher with a 20 person class.

    Afaik, changes in classroom size within the 20-30 range don’t have much of an impact on achievement. So now he’s saying that teacher quality doesn’t affect student outcomes.

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  5. Ross12 (1,432 comments) says:

    Simonway –read the DF comment you highlighted again slowly. You might understand it.

    The Treasury should seek comments from teachers who were around in the 60’s and 70’s when a grading system along the lines they are proposing existed. From my understanding it worked well but like all systems there was probably room for improvement and these older or ex teachers could help their proposal.

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  6. wreck1080 (3,924 comments) says:

    Umm, my there are classes in my childs primary school approaching 40 children.

    So, how many is too big? 50? 100?

    I thought 30 was ridiculous.

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  7. mpledger (425 comments) says:

    The thing with media reports on increasing class sizes is that it’s often assumed that there is only one teacher per class. That is not so – some of the reason that bigger class sizes are better is that there is more than one teacher (and teacher aide) in the class. So the class size might be sixty but there are two teachers and two teacher aides working in the class room i.e 15:1 adult to student.

    The size of the class and the teacher to pupil ratio are two different things. If the treasury had actually done the research you’d think they might have got it.

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  8. UpandComer (537 comments) says:

    My worst ever teacher was Mr Aal. He basically destroyed my chances of being good at math. I had him for 5th and 6th form. He was great at math himself. However, he could not teach. His accent was impossible to understand. His writing was illegible on the board. His English was not sufficient to be a good math teacher. He had no powers of explanation or simplification. I had all the will in the world but it was impossible. I’ll also blame some of the brown guys in my class who used his weakness to basically turn the class into a circus and be ADHD. But a good teacher or at least a competent one would not let a class turn into a complete circus and utter waste of time. I’m still pissed off at the missed opportunity years and years and years later. We had an amazing math teacher at the beginning of the year. He inspired respect, attentiveness, and even the dicks did their homework for him. But then he left and we got Mr dickhead Aal.

    I hate how all the money in education goes to education’s periphery. Enormous resources are wasted on providing teacher’s with professional development and what they consider acceptable working conditions, as well as unnecessary wasteful research. I’ve worked as a teachers aide. I found out the Otago Southland budget for teacher’s aides, the people who work with disadvantaged kids, was under $200k. Over 3 million was spend on professional development. I got my handicapped kids eating their lunch, gaining weight, growing taller, wiping their bums, reading, doing basic math when they came in like monkeys as 11 year olds with the skills of 4 year olds. Then I got removed because the school ran out of aide money. The teachers were great, but had to be part of the Union. Don’t anyone ever tell you that there isn’t money. There is plenty of money. But it goes to building million dollar schools. structure and ‘professional development Teaching isn’t magical. Just a little natural authority, tolerant temperament with some communication skills and kids are away. You underestimate how casually pigheadedly anti national teachers are.

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  9. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Maybe teachers are a bit anti-National because it tends to be under National governments that ‘national standards’, performance pay’ and other meaningless mantras come to the fore.

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  10. Neebone (26 comments) says:

    Feedback from students is credited with being the single greatest factor in dumbing down the US. Students give the best feedback to teachers who make life easier and less challenging and who set tests that anyone can pass and allocate high grades. Teachers spend more time as nursemaids and becoming the student’s friend rather than challenging them in order to get better feedback. There has to be a better way.

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  11. adze (2,126 comments) says:

    Mikenmild I guess you won’t be bringing up your performance when you next ask for a payrise if you think it’s meaningless?

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  12. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    MMmmmm – he says:
    “a number of ways” to assess teacher quality, including in-class observations by other teachers, direct observations by principals, and feedback from students and parents.”

    His broad idea is great – but this suggestion is frankly stupid.

    Performance of teachers is simple: You start the year with a class of tested abilities (they use several test now to do this – they find out if the students are the required year level – or whatever they are) and you end the year with a class of tested abilities. It is irrelevant at what level that class actually is at years start – some while be higher than others.

    The teacher will increase the ability of the class during the year and a good teacher will raise the level of each student by a one year jump – or an average of one year for the class. A bad teacher will not raise them by a one year jump, and really good teacher will take them more than one year (so many of the ‘Big Tail’ are years behind where they should be and they need improving more than a year at a time).

    The tests are all there now – all they need to do is to use them.

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  13. KevinH (1,229 comments) says:

    Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf is no stranger to controversy:

    http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/controversial-brit-takes-treasury-top-spot-ng-96053

    Whilst few would disagree with Mr Makhlouf’s observations however it is somewhat unusual for an economist to comment on educational issue’s, an area he has no practical experience in. With the numerous changes occurring over the years, Tomorrows Schools, NCEA, and National Standards, teachers must be feeling a degree of change fatigue in their professions.
    Mr Makhlouf’s suggestions:http://www.nzherald.co.nz/education/news/article.cfm?c_id=35&objectid=10793465 ,focus on inputs and expenditure with the output being subjective.

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  14. redkea (14 comments) says:

    Teachers should be measured and paid according to performance.

    However, it is still near on impossible to measure performance, because the variables are exceptionally complex.

    We have a habit of blaming teachers, or blaming the Ministry, or blaming the Minister, or blaming the Government.

    The state of New Zealand education and student performance is solely and entirely the responsibility of parents.

    Parents are to blame if there kids can’t read and write and count and tie their laces before 5.

    Poverty is a bullshit excuse. Plenty of very poor children are exceedingly bright and can read and write before 5. Those who can’t have dumb, ignorant, stupid, and lazy parents.

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  15. Nick R (507 comments) says:

    @ Wreck 1080 – Yeah, me too. There are 35 kids in my daughter’s primary school class. Obviously still not enough for DPF or Treasury.

    I’d also like to know why, if class size isn’t an issue, most private schools market on on the basis of their small class sizes.

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  16. redkea (14 comments) says:

    I’d go a step further and suggest an entrance exam before children start school.

    Something along the lines of parents show up.

    Question 1. Do you read to your children day?
    Question 2. Do you do basic math problems with your children?
    Question 3. Do you encourage your children to do physical exercise?

    If, you answer NO to any of the above – you are an idiot and should be told so.

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  17. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    I love how the Righties are so obssessed with teachers and wharfies. It says so much about their mentality. It doesn’t matter about the quality of politicians and their decision-making. Just as long as teachers and wharfies are paid a pittance and perform miracles, all is well with the world.

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  18. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    > it is somewhat unusual for an economist to comment on educational issues…

    Maybe teachers could comment on Makhlouf’s performance as an economist. With unemployment at high levels and rising, it’s apparent that he doesn’t have a good handle on the problem and is not offering workable solutions. Maybe Makhlouf’s pay should be related to his performance and if unemployment and other economic indicators don’t improve, he gets a pay cut or is sacked? I’m sure he’d agree to that.

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  19. eszett (2,417 comments) says:

    I wonder what problem they are trying to fix? It seems to me that we are getting pretty damn good value out of our teachers, according to this.

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/2011/12/28/pupil-performance/

    It seems to me that all these changes and teacher bashing is very much ideology driven.

    More on this at the dim post

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  20. Manolo (13,840 comments) says:

    Another sensible idea from Treasury: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/6609437/Retaining-pension-age-not-an-option

    Will Key listen? No.

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  21. Rightandleft (663 comments) says:

    The studies which found class size had very little effect on student outcomes were seriously flawed. They were conducted by having teachers use the exact same methods and lessons for classes with different numbers of students. They found the students had very similar results regardless of how many were in the class. But the whole point of having smaller class size is it allows teachers to use different, more effective methods. Research has also found that the most important thing a teacher can do in the class is give individual feedback to students. The more individual feedback per student, per class, the better the student outcomes. To me that seems like a pretty common sense result. It also doesn’t take a genius to see that increased class size inevitably means less feedback per student, which means poorer outcomes.

    Putting aside whether or not performance pay even works, I think we would all agree we should be spending what little money we have on whatever is the most effective way to improve student performance. I would argue that increasing funding to special education, including more teacher aides, and to early childhood education, where problems can be picked up and dealt with before they become irreversible, are the best ways to spend money to improve the long-tail. I think the quality of the teacher is less important that the quality of the child’s parents/family/caregivers. A high school child only spends 3-5 hours a week with each teacher. Having them well-fed, clothed and supported is far more important. Money spent on CYF and truancy would be a better use of resources.

    Now, on performance pay the issue really is how to fairly judge who is best. Anecdotal evidence about teachers who you disliked at school is worthless. It is very common for a group of kids to hate a particular teacher because of personality clashes or a difference over learning style or discipline methods. Another group of students will tell you the same teacher is brilliant. Using a value-added approach based on standardised tests is also problematic. There are too many outside variables. Over the course of the year I will lose several students in my class of 20-30 and gain several new ones. Often I share a class with another teacher, each of us taking them two periods a cycle. A couple students will be taken overseas for several weeks or become ill and also miss half a unit I’m teaching. Others will be having serious family issues I have no control over. There are always a couple with serious truancy problems who only attend a few days a term. As a result the outcomes at the end of the year may bear little relation to the quality of my teaching.

    Another issue with the value added approach is that we don’t actually have standardised testing to measure it. We do have such tools in English and Maths, but not for Social Studies or Art or Music. The tests for these subjects are set by individual schools, departments or teachers and cannot be compared nationally or even within a school. How do I measure a music teacher against a maths teacher and decide which deserves the raise? In primary schools every school gets to interpret national standards individually, so they aren’t actuall national or standard. How do we use them as a measure? If I have a low-ability class there could also be far more room to show improvement than if I have a top class who start out at Merit level. How do I get compared to others?

    Finally, studies from the states on the value-added approach show wildly variable results. Teachers rated superior one year were failing the next, then back up. They suggested teacher quality was not the most important factor in student outcomes at all.

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  22. tvb (4,432 comments) says:

    It is not pretty for a Treasury Secretary to get into a public fight with the Teachers’ Unions. Good luck, but I do not like where it might end up.

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  23. Zapper (1,021 comments) says:

    Redkea “Parents are to blame if there kids can’t read and write and count and tie their laces before 5.”

    I love irony :)

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  24. davidinthebay (3 comments) says:

    Would Mr Makhlouf be able to find any parent or educator in the country who agree that putting more students in a classroom would lead to better achievement for each student in that classroom? I don’t think so. The best info I can find is that the students would be no worse off, provided everything else was in order. Which means the kids need to be at school, not moving from district to district, families need to have enough money for basics, adequate funding and resources for special education students in the mainstream classroom and other essentials that we know are needed. This has nothing to do with accountability and everything to do with cutting costs. We can easily be persuaded by rhetoric but ask this one question – Who benefits by this action? The answer should be ‘our children’ but I don’t believe this is the case.

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  25. Scott Chris (6,155 comments) says:

    He suggested “a number of ways” to assess teacher quality, including in-class observations by other teachers, direct observations by principals, and feedback from students and parents.

    A boost in class sizes of one or two students per classroom could free cash to invest more in quality teachers, he said.

    The NZEI is right. This guy should stick to his knitting and STFU. Certainly assessing teacher effectiveness is essential to improve learning outcomes but asking for Gabriel Makhlouf’s opinion on assessment methods is akin to asking my dentist for a prostate exam.

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  26. Elaycee (4,393 comments) says:

    “Just as long as teachers and wharfies are paid a pittance and perform miracles, all is well with the world.”

    ‘miracles’ ????? Jeez Ross, I’d have thought that a remuneration north of $91,400 was actually a very good income for a straddle lift worker at the Port of Auckland. For a lot less than 40 ‘hours’ per week too….

    But in the case of teachers, I suspect most support the principle of performance based pay – the best teachers should be paid more than their under performing counterparts. Indeed, these same under performing teachers should be exposed to the sunshine and either they bring their skills up to the required levels or they ship out. No different to the real world.

    But does this principle sit well with the likes of the NZEI / PPTA / PSA et al? Nooooooo – they want to hang out for a collective. All for one and one for all etc. Its long overdue for the education unions to be dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century.

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  27. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    LAC,

    You simply prove my point. You think wharfies and teachers are paid too much. Why are you obsessed with their pay?

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  28. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Elaycee likes to chant for performance pay but has no idea how it would be implemented in schools (like DPF). Neither of them seem to think performance pay should apply to doctors, nurses, police officers or soldiers. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s only teachers they hate.

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  29. DJP6-25 (1,388 comments) says:

    The public school teachers here in Korea have an average class size of 30-36. Korean schools are in the top 5-10 world wide.
    There are two good reasons for this. First, Korean parents are obsessed with education, and second, they have not had to put up with the downside of 100 years of ‘progressivisim’. The vast majority of students know who both parents are. There is no ‘heaving underclass’. So, public education here works.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  30. willtruth (243 comments) says:

    I agree with eszett. Why change a system which is judged by the London School of Economics to be the best in the world, and the best value for money. We might make it better … but more likely we will scr*w it up.

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  31. ianmac (26 comments) says:

    Rightandleft @ 112:31. Brilliant. Especially:
    “The studies which found class size had very little effect on student outcomes were seriously flawed. They were conducted by having teachers use the exact same methods and lessons for classes with different numbers of students. They found the students had very similar results regardless of how many were in the class. But the whole point of having smaller class size is it allows teachers to use different, more effective methods. Research has also found that the most important thing a teacher can do in the class is give individual feedback to students. The more individual feedback per student, per class, the better the student outcomes. To me that seems like a pretty common sense result. It also doesn’t take a genius to see that increased class size inevitably means less feedback per student, which means poorer outcomes. ”
    You have nailed it!

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  32. Michael Mckee (1,091 comments) says:

    david Prosser makes some good points.

    20 kids per class sounds fair to all concerned.
    But it won’t work unless they can can the disruptive and even expel them asap if they won’t come right.
    If someone destroys the learning environment they shouldn’t be allowed to intefere with anyone else future learning.
    tough titty, that is what should happen to bad behaviour – Consequences.

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  33. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    Mr Jackson, Mr Reid, Mr Wilson were all great teachers

    … and Mr Jackson was very handy with the sandshoe as I recall :)

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  34. davidinthebay (3 comments) says:

    This from the Ministry of Education website…
    4. Recommendations for Further Research
    4.1 Effects of class size in a New Zealand setting
    The Review Group questioned the broad applicability of most of the research material available – almost entirely based on experience in countries where base-staffing levels are better than those in New Zealand, and core teaching styles are different. The Review Group strongly recommends the completion of detailed research, investigating class size effects in local settings, including its impacts on the recruitment and retention of teachers and improvements in the wider educational and social outcomes for students. The tentative findings of Boozer and Maloney, The Effects of Class Size on the Long Run Growth in Reading Abilities and Early Adult Outcomes in the Christchurch Health and Development Study (2000), support the Review Group’s belief that, contrary to widespread research opinion, class size reduction is beneficial in terms of student outcomes, both academic and social.

    Kind of says it all really – Treasury at odds with the evidence (apparently)

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  35. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    So a good teacher with a 30 person class will be as effective as an average teacher with a 20 person class.

    We should be thinking in the 21st century, figuring out how to get the very best teachers in front of millions of students (incl foreign fee-paying), and showing the worst teachers the door.

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  36. davidinthebay (3 comments) says:

    New Zealand continues to punch above its weight in educational outcomes for students despite significant disadvantage comparitively countries we are most often compared with… OECD. Where we fail as a country in education is with our families on the breadline.
    “Across OECD countries, a student from a more socio-economically advantaged background would outperform a student from an average background by 38 score points – which is about a year’s worth of education – in reading.
    “In New Zealand the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is more than 50 score points.””

    Pupils Per Teacher by Level of Schooling

    Ireland Primary 22.6 All secondary 16.6

    Canada Primary 21.0 All secondary 22.1

    UK Primary 22.0 All secondary 16.7

    Finland Primary 17.7 Lower secondary 11.0

    Australia Primary 17.9 All secondary 15.5

    New Zealand Primary 24.7 All secondary 21.0

    Remember, these are averages – as soon as a school uses staffing allocation for anything other than classroom teaching (such as coordinating programmes for special needs children), the average pupil : teacher ratio goes up.

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  37. Rightandleft (663 comments) says:

    I have to wonder where people are getting this idea that many incompetent teachers are allowed to continue teaching even though everyone knows how useless they are and that the unions are the only ones defending them. My theory is that this perception comes from three places, none of which are valid.

    1. Personal experience as a student. As I’ve said before just because you thought teachers A, B and C were terrible doesn’t mean that was so. Other students in your class may have thought they were brilliant, or they may have been forced to teach out of subject and struggled with your class but were excellent teachers of their normal subject. In one school I’ve taught at teachers from PE, Maths, Commerce, English and Esol were all forced to teach social studies classes, something they had no training for and for which they got little support from the overwhelmed HOD. Some of them struggled terribly and no doubt some students left thinking they were usless. But they were all brilliant teachers of their actual expert subjects and respected by their students in those classes.

    2. Stories of the Teachers Council failing to de-register teachers guilty of all sorts of misconduct. I think these stories have people thinking these incompetent or dangerous former teachers are still in the classroom when they are not. Teachers can be sacked from jobs for being incompetent but won’t lose their teacher registration immediately. Registration is only cancelled for very serious reasons. But they won’t still be teaching. Principals aren’t so desperate for teachers that they’ll hire someone just sacked for incompetence. And it isn’t actually hard to start competency procedures against a teacher. It can be started by a single complaint and the teacher is under serious scrutiny with the burden on them to prove competence. The union doesn’t defend every teacher. It looks at the charges and only supports those it reasonably believes have been wronged and can win the case. Being a union member isn’t a guaranteed no-sacking insurance policy at all.

    3. Stories of incompetent teachers being unable to be fired due to tenure in other countries, primarily the US. The system they have in the US does not exist in NZ. We don’t have any “rubber rooms” for bad teachers. The unions here are not identical to the American ones.

    Our teachers undergo regular performance reviews. We have to prove we have undertaken regular professional development (though this is getting harder as the govt cut the professional development budget in half) and we have to re-register every three years. A teacher sacked for incompetency will not be able to renew their registration.

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  38. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the tenor of this thread. Very thoughtful contributions from ianmac, davidinthebay and especially Rightandleft – thank you. Not the usual teacher-bashing rubbish one usually see on Kiwiblog.

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  39. Paulus (2,633 comments) says:

    Am still awaiting David Lange’s “Tomorrows Schools” which promised classes of 20 pupils.
    Where did I go wrong ?

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