“Big School, Small School” Revisited

A Case Study of a Large-Scale Comprehensive High School Based on the Campus Plan
  • Toshihiko Sako


The psychological effect of high school size was first studied by Barker and his colleagues (Barker & Gump, 1964), who conducted a survey of students’ participation in extracurricular activities. In schools whose size varied from 50 to 2,300 students, they conducted behavior setting surveys. Behavior settings have certain time space boundaries and standing patterns of behavior. Behavior settings are environmental units that connect teachers and students with their school as a whole. Comparisons between big and small schools showed that the number of settings did not have a simple proportional relation to school size. This means that even small schools have essential settings as a school in spite of a low level of structure and differentiation. As for the use of settings, small schools stimulate students to participate in settings responsively so that they have varied experiences. On the other hand, big schools seem to offer their students only nominal participation. School size relates positively to setting size. This means that a small school’s small setting is in an “understaffed condition,” which allows all participants to be substantial performers even though their performances are relatively poor. On the other hand, a big school’s big setting yields some excellent performers but many anonymous and nominal participants. In the latter case, individuals deviate from the interpersonal control that might function in a small group and become unable to enjoy the useful activities provided by small settings. The question is: which school, big or small, is desirable? The answer depends on which educational objectives are considered favorable: essential experience or excellent performance.


School Setting Behavior Setting Extracurricular Activity School Size Small School 
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. Baird, L. L. (1969). Big school, small school: A critical examination of the hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 60, 253–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barker, R. G., & Gump, P. V. (1964). Big school, small school: High school size and student behavior.Stanford. CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Gump, P.V. (1987). School and classroom environment. In D. Stokols & I. Altman (Eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology: vol.1, (pp. 691–732). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  4. Nojima, E. (1993). The effectiveness of the “house system” in a comprehensive high school: A case study of Ina-gakuen comprehensive high school. Journal of Human Sciences, 6(1), 13–22. (In Japanese)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Sako, T. (1993). Teachers’ movement patterns in the physical setting of a large-scale comprehensive high school based on the campus plan. Journal of Human Sciences, 6(1), 2–12. (In Japanese)Google Scholar
  6. Schoggen, P. (1989). Behavior settings: A revision and extension of Roger G. Barker’s ecological psychology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Wicker, A. W. (1979). An introduction to ecological psychology.Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole (Republished in 1983 by New York: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Toshihiko Sako
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human Health Sciences, School of Human SciencesWaseda UniversitySaitamaJapan

Personalised recommendations