Skip to main content
Ex: Europe, Middle East, Education

The Duplication of Classes: The End of School Failure?

BLOG - 7 February 2019

Since the start of the school year in September 2017, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French Minister of National Education, has been leading a major education reform. One of his first measures was to duplicate certain 1st grade (Year 7) classes in educational priority areas in order to reduce the number of pupils in classes, from over 20 down to a dozen. A year and a half later, Laurent Cros, Executive Director of the organization Agir pour l'Ecole, which serves as a platform to experiment with new methods for learning to read, shares his first assessment of the measure.

Almost a year and a half after the duplication of certain 1st grade classes in educational priority areas, and following Jean-Michel Blanquer’s assessment, do the results obtained match this measure’s initial goals?

The duplication of 1st grade classes in educational priority areas (REP+) began in September 2017 and benefited 60,000 pupils, 40% of whom were in very difficult positions in Maths and French. In France, the priority education policy aims to correct the impact of social and economic inequalities on the educational success of schools facing the greatest social difficulties.
 
The overall goal of this measure is to reach a "100% success rate in 1st grade", i.e. to ensure that each 1st grade student acquires basic skills - reading, writing and counting.

In France, the priority education policy aims to correct the impact of social and economic inequalities on the educational success of schools facing the greatest social difficulties.

The results of this first assessment of the impact of the duplication of classes on students' skills are encouraging: there has been a 7.8% decrease in the share of students who face strong difficulties in French, and a 12.5% decrease in the share of those who face strong difficulties in Maths. However, this only means that we went from having 40% of pupils who are in great difficulty to 37%. As the Evaluation, Forecasting and Performance Department (DEPP) of the Ministry of National Education points out, "greater pedagogical transformations will have to support the system’s deployment and expansion in the coming years, in order to make the duplication measure fully effective".
 

Before reaching the "100% success rate in first grade", we could start by focusing on the already ambitious goal of reducing the share of pupils who have very high academic difficulties in educational priority areas down to the share of pupils with high difficulties in schools that aren’t in educational priority areas, i.e. 18%. This would amount to reducing the number of pupils in very difficult positions by 22%, going from 40% to 18%.
 
Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio), which was implemented in Tennessee, in the US, in 1985, is an example of a successful large-scale experiment in the duplication of school classes. Students in small classes performed better than those in control classes. This progress is observed starting from the first year and is maintained thereafter, even when pupils from small classes then join regular-size classes. Two factors are considered decisive for the long-term success of the children tested in this project: the size of the class and teachers’ professional experience, linked to adequate pedagogy.

How can effective pedagogical transformations be initiated?

This government has chosen a scientific and evidence-based approach - built on the triptych of research, evaluation and deployment - and that’s a good thing. Agir pour l'Ecole is one of the associations that works closely with the Ministry on this approach. The latter aims to overcome the sterile opposition between "global" and "alphabetical" methods, yet it does not present itself as a magical recipe either.
 
A child spends an average of 864 hours per year at school. No extracurricular support program can match this time slot - which is why school is where we need to intervene.

The implementation of the system proposed by Agir pour l'Ecole to teachers is both complex and demanding, as can be the implementation of a medical protocol that has been tested and validated by scientific research.

It is based on a specific organization of the class and of its timetable. This means that every day during school hours, the teacher needs to keep some time aside to teach groups of four to eight students, focusing on the basic skills required to learn to read. By methodically working in small groups, and according to the children's progress, the teacher can adapt to the needs of each and every child.

A child spends an average of 864 hours per year at school. No extracurricular support program can match this time slot - which is why school is where we need to intervene.

How can we tell the success of one method over another?

30 years of research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience and educational economics show that all children can succeed if they are taught how to read with the appropriate pedagogy. The latter rests on the acquisition of four skills that predict the reading level: the knowledge of letters, vocabulary, phonological awareness and listening comprehension. As the foundation for all learning, reading then notably enables students to understand the instructions of the other subjects taught.
 
Among others, our protocol is the result of several years of research and assessments conducted by researchers in France and abroad, by the Evaluation, Forecasting and Performance Department (DEPP) of the Ministry of National Education, the Institute for Research in Education Economics of the University of Burgundy and the Université Lyon II. The first assessments conducted on 150 classes in 2013 showed a 30 to 50% decrease in the number of pupils facing difficulties at the end of first grade. In 2017, in classes located in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the program allowed students to exceed the average level of French students. Each child, when given the appropriate cognitive stimulation, can learn how to read and have a normal experience at school.
 
This rational approach, based on an evaluated scientific approach, is now the matrix of public policies deployed in many countries. We believe that this approach can curb the spiral of academic failure that leads 150,000 pupils to leave school without a diploma each year.

 

Add new comment

Commentaire

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type='1 A I'> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id='jump-*'> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Only images hosted on this site may be used in <img> tags.

Envoyer cette page par email

L'adresse email du destinataire n'est pas valide
Institut Montaigne
59, rue la Boétie 75008 Paris

© Institut Montaigne 2017