A new article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis looks at primary school size and academic performance, and concludes that for most pupils there is no causal relationship.
The authors used administrative records on 691,450 pupils aged 8-11 who attended 1,417 schools in North Carolina between 2004 and 2010. The data contained end-of-year maths and reading scores, pupil demographics, classroom identifiers, and a set of school-level characteristics including total enrolment, average daily attendance, suspensions, expulsions, crimes per 1,000 pupils, and geographic locale.
The primary analysis provided no evidence of a causal relationship between school size and overall pupil achievement, regardless of whether school size was measured at the school or year level.
However, two subgroups were significantly harmed by increases in school size. The maths and reading achievement of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) was lower in large schools, as was the reading (but not maths) achievement of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. The authors suggest that SEN pupils may be particularly sensitive to increases in school size either because larger schools are less able to match their needs to relevant support programmes, or because they are more sensitive to the weaker social bonds that may be inherent in larger schools. The authors also cite previous research that suggests that disadvantaged pupils who receive less attention at home may benefit from the greater individual attention provided by smaller schools.
Source: The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement (2015), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(1).