Yes, Smaller Classes Are Better for (Some) Kids

Open House

Smaller classes just sound better—but are they, really? In Canada, class size has been top of mind the past few years with heated debates over class-size legislation in Ontario, BC, Alberta, and Manitoba.

Plenty of studies point to advantages for kids in smaller classes, but a lot of them aren’t super-scientific or they focus heavily on financial cost-benefit analysis. As a parent, I’m less interested in short-term costs than in long-term benefits for my kids. Will it help them enjoy learning, feel safe and supported, become confident and curious? Will they be happy? Studies are not as good at measuring these things.

But here’s what we do know about the effects of small class sizes.


Younger children benefit most from smaller classes.

After more than 30 years’ of research, this is pretty much undisputed. In the early years, kindergarten through Grade 3, kids in smaller classes have significant advantages—not just immediately, but into adulthood. They do better in math and language, they are more likely to go to university, and as adults, they earn more, save more, and live in better neighbourhoods. The earlier a child is placed in a small class, the better. Students who start kindergarten in a small class do much better in reading and math over time than children who start a small class in Grade 1. The benefits appear to compound, too — meaning the more years students spend in a small class, the larger the achievement gap.


Older children probably benefit, too.

There is less data out there on the effects of small classes on children beyond Grade 3 and some studies have found no benefits at the high school level. But a study from Sweden found that students ages 10–13 in smaller classes were more motivated, had more self-confidence, were more likely to finish university, and earned more.


Kids are more engaged in smaller classes.

Students in smaller classes talk and participate more, have better relationships with their teachers, have fewer behaviour issues in class, and are better able to adapt to challenges. All this is well-documented for younger kids.


Teachers can focus more on individuals in a small class.

Obviously, right? A teacher with fewer students can give each student more attention. That also means they can shape lessons in response to individual learning needs and are better at recognizing whether each student is participating and on track.

Click here to read the full article on the Help! We’ve Got Kids website.

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