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Composite Classes, Class Size and Human Capital Accumulation

In this project, we studied the effects of classroom composition, in particular multi-grade (“composite”) classes, and class size on pupils’ attainment in primary schools. Both features have received ample attention from academics, practitioners, and policy makers. Yet, due to a lack of data and robust empirical methods, evidence on peer effects and the impact of class structure has been scant. Our project turned to Scotland to overcome these obstacles and fill this knowledge gap. In particular, our study pursued to answer 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?

In addition, an important “legacy goal” of this project was to demonstrate that it is
feasible to create a panel data set that allows researchers and stakeholders to track Scottish
pupils as they progress through the education system and beyond, thus allowing for an analysis
of both short-term and long-term outcomes of education policies and interventions.

We thank the Nuffield Foundation for providing funding to carry out this work.

Authors

Daniel Borbely Strathclyde University
Daniel Borbely
Markus Gehrsitz Strathclyde
Markus Gehrsitz

Head of Research at the Fraser of Allander Institute

Gennaro Rossi
Gennaro Rossi
Picture of Graeme Roy, director of the Fraser of Allander Institute
Graeme Roy

Dean of External Engagement in the College of Social Sciences at Glasgow University and previously director of the Fraser of Allander Institute.