Guernsey Press

Class ‘tipping point’ rise not good for pupils, claims union

A TEACHING union has described a planned increase in pupil number limits in classes at Guernsey’s secondary schools as a ‘worsening of provision’.

ESC president Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29487018)

From this September, Education, Sport & Culture has decided to lift the so-called tipping point – or threshold where a new class needs to be created – from 26 students to 28.

A spokesman for the National Education Union questioned how the change would improve pupils’ achievements.

‘NEU representatives note with concern the content of remarks made by ESC politicians in relation to the use of “class tipping points” as a yardstick. It’s hard to see how potential increases in actual class sizes represent anything other than a worsening of provision for our learners.

‘Parents who opt to “buy out” into the private schools often do so in the belief that smaller classes and better facilities lead to more favourable educational outcomes.

‘Nobody who supported “pause and review” did so expecting worsened provision in the schools that the vast majority of our next generations must attend – the very schools that current ESC politicians are responsible for.’

ESC has insisted that its decision on the tipping point has nothing to do with the overall transformation of secondary schools to a new model.

However, the NEU spokesman was not convinced.

‘Although those speaking on behalf of ESC try to separate off “operational issues”, or to label as “business as usual” matters such as class sizes and staffing structures, teachers and parents are likely to see them as integral to the success of ESC’s broader post-11 proposals.’

In an email to all teaching staff sent out on Friday, Education president Andrea Dudley-Owen said that in practical terms, the tipping point hike would make little difference.

‘While we of course recognise that any change can bring uncertainty, it is important to think about this small change in the context of the very significant impact this will have for other areas of education.

‘Quite simply, it allows us to move forwards with some of the improvements that we are so keen to see in other areas of education, like the changes recommended by Nasen [National Association for Special Educational Needs] – one of which will be to make sure we free up all our Sendcos [special needs coordinators] from routine classroom-teaching responsibilities.’

The tipping point is different to average class sizes. If the policy was applied today, it would result in an average class size of 25 in States secondary schools and 22 in primary schools.

In a video released to teachers earlier this month, Education vice-president Bob Murray explained more about the context in which the decision was being taken.

‘The reality is that money has been tight.

‘In the past the States has set savings targets for all committees and Covid has meant that money is now even tighter.’

As well as the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the gaps in special needs provision, another issue on ESC’s horizon is a ‘short-term bulge’ in projected school age demographics.