Many schools in Barbados have grown larger over the years and this presents new challenges to principals and teachers. This growth has happened for various reasons, such as demographic changes, consolidation of two schools, or the closure of a school, as in the case of the Louis Lynch School, which forced other schools to take the displaced students.
Many researchers, including Cotton (1996), say that a manageable size is 300 – 400 pupils for an elementary school and 400 – 800 students for a secondary school. Our local education authorities share a similar view. However, there are several secondary schools here that accommodate 850 – 1000+ students. In other words they are too large to function with optimal effectiveness. Classes are too big and discipline is problematic. Teachers must spend more time trying to maintain classroom control and end up having less time to teach.
I have had the experience of leading a school of almost 1100 students and that was a very different proposition from running the same school when it was smaller. As the school grew, it became more difficult to maintain the appropriate school culture, ethos and educational outcomes. It also became more difficult to secure the funds needed to operate the school.
I would definitely recommend that we return to smaller schools. To do this we will obviously need to build two or three new secondary schools. This may seem expensive at the outset, but it is a strategic investment in our children’s future and our country’s development.
Academic achievement is generally better in smaller schools. Class sizes are smaller and teachers have the time to give more individual attention to weaker students. They can also experiment with different teaching methodologies more easily and they are less tired at the end of each day. Correcting students’ work is less time consuming and this allows them to receive meaningful feedback in a timely manner.
Social behavior among students is better in smaller schools since supervision is easier and staff and students know each other better. There is a greater sense of community and less alienation and hostility. Discipline is easier to maintain and there are much lower levels of fighting, bullying, vandalism, theft, drug and alcohol use and gang affiliation than we see in most of our large schools today. Parents are more involved in their children’s education and tend to be more supportive of school values and policy.
Interpersonal relations among teachers and administrators tend to be better in smaller schools and teaching and learning activities are easier to implement and evaluate. In view of the advantages and benefits of smaller schools, I believe that we need to consider seriously the role that large school size is playing in the growing malaise in some of our schools and take corrective action.
This post is adapted from one of my letters to the editor, published in The Barbados Advocate newspaper on Wednesday May 1st 2013.