Investigating the effects of class composition and class size on pupils’ attainment in Scottish primary schools

This ‘Data Insights’ briefing shares a snapshot of findings from research being conducted by Dr Markus Gehrsitz, on classroom characteristics and attainment.

This research studies the effects of composite classes. In Scotland these classes comprise of primary school pupils from adjacent years. In the case of primary one pupils (P1 pupils) those just starting school may be taught alongside primary two pupils (P2 pupils). Pupils in primary two meanwhile, may be taught alongside pupils who are in their first year of school or their third year (P1 or P3),and so forth for other years, right up to primary seven. In this research project, they study whether exposure to younger or older peers by way of composite classes affects educational outcomes.

The Data Insights and the associated papers reveal insights into the following questions:

1. Do composite classes in primary school affect pupil attainment?

2. Is exposure to more mature peers by way of composite classes beneficial? If so, do these gains in attainment come at the expense of children who form the older/more mature part of composite classes?

3. Do smaller class sizes in primary school lead to higher attainment as measured by teacher assessment?

4. Does exposure to older/younger peers by way of composite classes and/or smaller classes improve pupils’ attitudes towards learning?

5. Do smaller classes and/or exposure to older/younger peers by way of composite classes reduce pupil absences and suspensions?

Overall, this research concludes that exposure to older peers is highly beneficial to primary school pupils in terms of attainment. Composite classes, which are very common in Scotland, explicitly create these peer effects while simultaneously allowing administrators to save on the number of classrooms required and thus costs. Class size reductions, by contrast, do not offer any statistically significant benefits.

Please read the full Data Insights here.

This article was published on 28 Apr 2021