Pilot study shows benefits of primary pupils taught in groups of 20 to 25 The government plans to extend the number of primary schools operating small classes in the next academic year to around 75 schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged children. The Education and Manpower Bureau revealed its plans for small classes yesterday and the progress of a pilot study in 37 schools, both to be discussed at Monday's Legco education panel meeting. In a briefing paper for panel members, the bureau stated that small classes might be implemented in schools with at least 40 per cent of Primary One to Three students receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, with 75 schools expected to qualify. These will be given cash grants of $290,000 a year for each additional class, to enable them to split students in classes of 20 to 25 for Chinese, English and maths. This will begin in September in Primary One and be carried through to Primary Two and Three in the following two years. Normal class sizes range from 32 to 37 pupils. The initiative is expected to cost $32 million a year to implement, as well as $650,000 in the initial years for hiring additional staff and providing school-based support. The bureau will not reveal the names of those schools taking part in case they are labelled for their large number of disadvantaged students. The administration was supportive of small classes, the paper said. But given the huge long-term financial commitment and competing demands for funds, as well as inconclusive overseas studies and scarcity of local experience, small classes had to be implemented strategically to ensure they led to more effective learning. Preliminary findings from the pilot scheme, which began last September, confirmed that to be of any benefit, small classes required changes in teaching style and curriculum. Lam Yuet-har, principal of St Joseph's Primary School (PM Session), one of the schools in the pilot project, said if money was available, small classes should be extended to all Primary One and Form One classes. 'We find small classes are beneficial to pupils, for their development, not necessarily their academic results,' she said. Teachers could also cater better for differences among children. 'They can know the students more and find out their difficulties earlier, because they can have more communication with parents and more chance to listen to students and watch their interactions,' she said. The three-year research study - conducted by local academics with a University of Cambridge professor, Maurice Galton, as consultant - is monitoring students' academic results and also involves lesson observation and questionnaires involving students and parents. In the next two years it will assess the effect on the students.