PROF JOHN HATTIE – University of Melbourne
Well, we’ve certainly done many, many studies looking at the effects when we reduce class sizes, certainly by the one or two that were suggested in New Zealand, and it’s very, very hard to find that they make that much of a difference. The major question is why is it that a seemingly obvious thing that should make a difference doesn’t make a difference, and that’s what’s beguiled a lot of people over the last many decades. I think we have some good answers for that, but the bottom line is it hardly makes a difference.
SHANE Why is that?
PROF HATTIE Well, I think the major argument seems to be when you have teachers in class sizes, like, of 26, 27, 30 and you put them in the class sizes of, say, 18 to 23, and they don’t change what they do, that seems to be the reason why it doesn’t make a difference. So could it make a difference? Yeah, it probably could if we changed how we went about our teaching. But that doesn’t seem to happen. When the many, many thousands, tens of thousands of teachers have gone from one size to another, they don’t change how they teach. So, no, that’s why it doesn’t make much of a difference.
So reducing class size may be beneficial if the teachers then teach differently.
SHANE So they did a terrible selling job?
PROF HATTIE Well, I think the selling mistake was concentrating on the class size. I know when the minister announced it, she talked mainly about staff-student ratios. But I certainly didn’t hear a very clear mandate of what the $150m, $200m over the next few years was going to be used for. Saying it’s going to be used for teacher quality is a little bit too ephemeral for me. I would have liked something more specific. But if they’d said it’s this rather than that, I think that’s the sale job they should have done, rather than whether it’s smaller or larger classes.
This is the exact point I made in my Herald column. The lack of any deatils around what they would do to improve teacher quality.
SHANE So are you saying that it was worth changing the ratio to be able to spend, as the government said, $60m to improve teaching quality?
PROF HATTIE Oh, absolutely, provided they were much more clear about what that investment in teacher quality is. I think it’s a very reasonable decision. It’s one that should be made. It’s one that principals are asked to make all the time, and I certainly think the government should also have done what they’ve done and kept to it.
But as there was no clarity around what the investment in teacher quality would be, a reversal was inevitable. I don’t think it was just an issue that the Government did not communicate the details – as far as I know, the specifics are not even developed yet.
PROF HATTIE Well, I think they were wrong because… They kind of had to back down, given the heat on class size. Like, it’s a very easy hot-button issue. Everybody thinks it’s obvious that reducing class size is a better thing. No one seems to understand, and they certainly don’t accept the research evidence, that it doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s just an emotional reaction that of course it should.
I was debating this on Twitter. The funding decisions should be based on peer reviewed research as to what is most effective – not on emotions.