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Teachers told to maximise classroom sizes

As students head back to school this week, the season starts with savings pressure as the government's measures to improve education by reducing class sizes are hitting stumbling blocks in parts of Finland.

Learning outcomes are directly linked to the number of pupils in a classroom, says the Trade Union of Education. Image: Yle

Government moves to improve education by reducing class sizes are under the looming threat of austerity measures that may increase class sizes.

“In many municipalities, rectors have been told that they need to fill their classrooms to as full as possible,” says Heljä Misukka, Director of Education at the Trade Union of Education (OAJ).

According to the Trade Union, there is a direct correlation between class size and learning outcomes. The Union refers to a recent study that indicates small classroom sizes are most beneficial for kids with learning disabilities and those who come from multicultural, multilingual families.

“Smaller class sizes take learning outcomes further and are linked to whether or not students go on to post-secondary education,” says Misukka.

Case Vantaa

Six years ago a Vantaa school in Greater Helsinki was able to hire 45 teachers, significantly reducing class sizes. But school officials say they won't be able to continue the programme next year.

Vantaa will make its final financing decision in next year’s budget. Vantaa’s Director of Basic Education Ilkka Kalo says that, "If funding is not found, class sizes will return to 2009 levels in the worst case scenario."

There were 67 classrooms with more than 28 students during the 2009-2010 academic year, whereas during the last school year there were only 11 classrooms with more than 28 students.

The OAJ recommends that for the first and second grade, the maximum size of the classroom is 18 and 20 students respectively.