PPTA blogger sees value in smaller class sizes for disruptive students

In an interesting article on the PPTA blog site, blogger Tom Haig admits that smaller classroom sizes are one solution for dealing with disruptive students. In the same article he mocks charter schools’ ability to remove a disruptive student from the classroom yet he acknowledges the pressure within mainstream schooling to integrate these disruptive students into the classroom. Despite saying that he supports this mainstream ideology of integration of disruptive students he also acknowledges that they impact negatively on the other students.

Eric Crampton, from the New Zealand Initiative, pointed out some research recently…

It’s about the impact of disruptive students on their peers… concludes that they have a significantly bad impact on their educational attainment

…the final sentence of Eric’s post got me thinking. He writes  “The benefits to disruptive students of being in mainstream classrooms would have to be substantial to make integrated classrooms desirable overall.”

This seems somewhat out of touch with how our schools work.  The reality is almost all schools in New Zealand see integration (of disruptive students) as desirable. Removing students, from class or from school, is heavily frowned on by the powers that be (unless you’re a charter school apparently), and the vast majority of schools agree.

It is amusing that Mr Hague mocks charter schools for removing disruptive students from the classroom, or from the school, when the alternative education provider that I used to work for gained almost all its students from local mainstream high schools who had removed them because of their disruptive behaviour.

An example of this is from a very traditional boys’ school I visited a few years ago which had just got rid of the ‘withdrawal room’ where students were sent to cool off when they were playing up in class. Now teachers were expected to deal with the problem; the message teachers were given was “be more interesting and the boys won’t cause trouble”.  This is consistent from the top down, when the Minister praises schools for getting the rates of suspensions and expulsions down, and the Ministry of Education’s PB4L action plan is about keeping students engaged and at school.

There are a lot of good things about this, and there are good reasons to believe that school practices can reduce the rates of disruption. But, like with student achievement gaps, school practices on their own almost certainly won’t be able to eliminate the problem.

But Eric also seems to assume that there’s a reasonable alternative for ‘disruptive’ students, which isn’t being in mainstream classrooms. Currently there are around 1800 students in Alternative Education (AE) centres, which are where some of the ‘most challenging’ students end up .

And AE is only for students aged 13-16 who are “genuinely alienated from the education system”, and specifically not for students who are “difficult to manage in a mainstream setting”.

If by ‘genuinely alienated’ Haig means chronic truants then, yes, many of my students were. It also means that they were suspended, expelled and excluded from mainstream education for smoking, violence and drug use. It meant that they had run out of options because no mainstream school would take them. Haig says that AE is not for students who are difficult to manage in a mainstream setting yet, in my experience, it did include them as well. One student I taught in AE had ADHD and various schools had tried to manage him unsuccessfully despite him being put on Ritalin and other drugs. Another student had dyslexia. Yet another student had suffered brain damage and his ability to learn was impaired.

So of the around 230,000 students aged 13-16, there are places for 1800 highly alienated ones in AE centres. What else is there? Very little.

Mr Haig is quite right that there is very little around for these students, which is why charter schools like Vanguard Military School are so fantastic. Military discipline works well for many disruptive students who desperately need boundaries and guidelines, a sense of belonging and family.

…So what else can be done?

Accepting that we shouldn’t, and can’t exclude disruptive students from mainstream education, but that they do, as the research indicates, have a serious impact, particularly when there are multiple disruptive students in a class, maybe the solution is about reducing the numbers of disruptive students in each class?

One way to do this is to dedicate staffing to low decile schools where disruptive students are more prevalent. If classes in those schools went from 25-30 students with 3 or 4 disruptive students to 15-20 with 1-2 that would significantly improve their peers’ learning.

-PPTA Blog

Charter schools are certainly achieving great results with smaller class sizes.




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  • OneTrack

    Or, you could send the disruptive students to a dedicated classroom or school. And then the students who want to learn, and the teachers who want to teach, can get on with it.

  • Keyser Soze

    Serious question. Why should we accept keeping chronically disruptive kids in classes if there is a significant detrimental effect on other children? The world needs unskilled labour, surely the disruptive ones are part of Darwinian selection for that niche? Keep them out of the way of the kids who can / do want to learn.