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Composite classes, class size and human capital accumulation

Researchers: Dr Markus Gehrsitz | Dr Stuart McIntyre ...

Project overview

This project will investigate what effect a smaller class size in primary school can have on pupil’s achievement, attitudes toward learning, course of education, and their choice of post-secondary school destinations.

Policy makers tend to assume that smaller class sizes in primary school lead to better outcomes for pupils, and on this basis, the Scottish Government have recently committed ’88 million to maintain current pupil-teacher ratios. However, there are limited current reliable evaluations of the effectiveness of smaller classes, therefore forcing policy makers to allocate educational funding without an adequate evidence base.

This study will be the first in the UK to provide the evidence needed to examine the causal effect of class size in primary school on learning and pupils’ labour market transition. It aims to answer the following questions:

  • Do smaller class sizes in primary school lead to higher test scores?
  • Do smaller class sizes in primary school improve pupils’ attitudes towards learning?
  • Do smaller class sizes in primary school reduce pupil absences and suspensions?
  • Do smaller class sizes in primary school boost pupils’ secondary educational attainment?
  • Do smaller class sizes in primary school improve long-term outcomes?

This project will show whether reductions in class size have long-run benefits through analysis of the Scottish Pupil Census (SPC), an annually conducted census that collects basic information on 680,000 pupils in Scotland’s state schools.

The analysis of cohorts from Scottish state schools will allow policy makers across the UK and Europe to learn from the Scottish case, and to design future educational policy, by compiling data on the educational careers of Scottish pupils, and in the process lay the groundwork for future evaluations of educational interventions.

The researchers will build an individual-level panel data set that contains information on Scottish pupils’ class sizes as well as their demographic background, educational attainment and in-school behaviour, destinations upon graduation, and test scores.

The findings will be of major interest to parents, teachers, and policymakers within the UK and in Europe.


  • Dr Markus Gehrsitz
    University of Strathclyde
  • Dr Stuart McIntyre
    University of Strathclyde
  • Prof Graeme Roy
    University of Strathclyde

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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