Teaching in Large and Small Classes

  • Peter Blatchford
  • Anthony Russell
  • Penelope Brown
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE, volume 21)

In many countries over the world there has been a hotly contested and widely reported debate over the educational consequences of class size differences. Opinions vary from those academics and policy makers who argue that class size reduction is not cost effective to those who argue that it should be a cornerstone of educational policy. Despite the debate, there is general agreement, from both experimental (e.g., Finn & Achilles, 1999) and naturalistic studies (Blatchford, Bassett, Goldstein, & Martin, 2003), that smaller classes have positive effects on pupil academic performance, if introduced immediately after school entry, that is, with the youngest children in school.

However, it is now widely appreciated that attention needs to move from studies of the effects on academic outcomes to better understanding of the classroom processes that might be involved (Anderson, 2000; Finn, Pannozzo, & Achilles, 2003; Grissmer, 1999). In this paper we concentrate on connections between class size and these classroom processes such as teacher and pupil behaviour and relationships, relationships between pupils, pupil engagement and involvement. Rather than a detailed review of research evidence, we are more concerned with the educational implications of class size differences, with a particular emphasis on maximising the benefits of small classes for pupil learning.


Class Size Small Class School Entry School Size Individual Attention 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Achilles, C. A. (1999). Let's put kids first, finally: Getting class size right. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, L. (2000). Why should reduced class size lead to increased student achievement? In M. C. Wang & J. D. Finn (Eds.), How small classes help teachers do their best (pp. 3–24). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education.Google Scholar
  3. Biddle, B. J., & Berliner, D. C. (n.d.). What research says about small classes and their effects. Part of series In Pursuit of Better Schools: What research says. Downloadable from or
  4. Blatchford, P. (2003). The class size debate: Is small better? (128pp). Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Goldstein, H., & Martin. C. (2003). Are class size differences related to pupils' educational progress and classroom processes? Findings from the Institute of Education Class Size Study of children aged 5–7 Years. British Educational Research Journal, 29(5), 709–730. Special Issue “In Praise of Educational Research”, Guest Editors: S. Gorrard, C. Taylor and K. Roberts.Google Scholar
  6. Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., & Brown, P. (2005). Teachers' and pupils' behaviour in large and small classes: A systematic observation study of pupils aged 10/11 Years. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(3), 454–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blatchford, P., & Catchpole, G. (2003). Class size and classroom processes. In J. P. Keeves. & R. Watanabe (Eds.), International handbook of educational research in the Asia-Pacific region (pp. 741–754). Dordrecht: KluwerGoogle Scholar
  8. Blatchford, P., Galton, M., Kutnick, P., & Baines, E. (2005). Improving the Effectiveness of Pupil Groups in Classrooms. Final Report to ESRC (L139 25 1046).Google Scholar
  9. Blatchford, P., Goldstein, H., & Mortimore, P. (1998). Research on class size effects: A critique of methods and a way forward. International Journal of Educational Research, 29, 691–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blatchford, P., Moriarty, V., Edmonds, S., & Martin, C. (2002, Spring). Relationships between class size and teaching: a multi-method analysis of English infant schools. American Educational Research Journal, 39(1), 101–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Blatchford, P., & Mortimore, P. (1994). The issue of class size in schools: What can we learn from research? Oxford Review of Education, 20(4), 411–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cooper, H. M. (1989). Does reducing student-to-teacher ratios affect achievement? Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 79–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ehrenberg, R. G., Brewer, D. J., Gamoran, A., & Willms, J. D. (2001, May). Class size and student achievement. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2(1), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Finn, J. D., & Achilles, C. M. (1999). Tennessee's class size study: Findings, implications, misconceptions. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21(2), 97–109.Google Scholar
  15. Finn, J. D., Pannozzo, G. M., & Achiles, C. M. (2003). The “why”s' of class size: Student behaviour in small classes. Review of Educational Research, 73(3), 321–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Galton, M. (1998). Class size: A critical comment on the research. International Journal of Educational Research, 29, 809–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grissmer, D. (1999). Class size effects: Assessing the evidence, its policy implications, and future research agenda. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21(2), 231–248.Google Scholar
  18. Hattie, J. (2005). The paradox of reducing class size and improving learning outcomes. International Journal of Educational Research, 43, 387–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rice, J. K. (1999). The impact of class size on instructional strategies and the use of time in High School mathematics and science courses. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21(2), 215–229.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Blatchford
    • 1
  • Anthony Russell
    • 1
  • Penelope Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations