John Hattie Interview BBC

Jorge Rodriguez @physednow recently introduced me to an interview on BBC Radio with John Hattie. John Hattie is the Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Visible Learning which is a synthesis of more than 800 meta-studies covering more than 80 million students. I tell you this because when he speaks it is much different than most. He is not giving opinions based on “feelings” or what he “believes”, (which I do most weeks) he is giving a well-researched point of view.  I will highlight the major points of the interview.

Class Size

“Well, the first thing is, reducing class size does enhance achievement. However, the magnitude of that effect is tiny. It’s about a hundred and fifth out of a hundred and thirty odd different effects out there and it’s just one of those enigmas and the only question to ask is why is that effect so small? Because it is small. And the reason, we’ve found out, that it’s so small is because teachers don’t change how they teach when they go from a class of thirty to fifteen and perhaps it’s not surprising.”

This surprised me. You would think that the smaller the class size the more the teacher contact and instruction the child would have. As he stated above teachers aren’t changing the way they teach with the amount of students they have. He wasn’t saying that class size shouldn’t matter. His major point is that teachers should switch up how they teach to utilize the smaller number.

Public vs. Private

“Here in England, if you take out the prior differences from going to a private school where they tend to get parents who choose, as oppose to them sent to the local school, they tend to get a brighter student, you take that out, there’s not much difference. In many places the government school would be better. So, it’s kind of ironic, in the last twenty years where we’ve pushed this notion that parents have choice, so they can choose the school that may not be in the best interest of their student.”

Again another surprise here. You would have thought that private schools would have been a much better option for students. He hammers home the point again and again that it is the individual teachers that make the difference not the school.


“Homework in primary school has an effect of around zero. In high school it’s larger. (…) Which is why we need to get it right. Not why we need to get rid of it. It’s one of those lower hanging fruit that we should be looking in our primary schools to say, “Is it really making a difference?” If you try and get rid of homework in primary schools many parents judge the quality of the school by the presence of homework. So, don’t get rid of it. Treat the zero as saying, “It’s probably not making much of a difference but let’s improve it”. Certainly I think we get over obsessed with homework. Five to ten minutes has the same effect of one hour to two hours. The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects. The best thing you can do is to reinforce something you’ve already learnt.”

Unlike Alice Keeler he doesn’t advocate to eliminate homework. Anyone who has ever played sports will tell you that perfect practice makes perfect. We don’t need to beat our students to death with hours of homework, but practicing a newly learned skill doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world.

Streaming (separating pupils by academic ability into groups)

“It doesn’t make a difference.” Sarah Montague: “But bright kids aren’t held back by less bright and less bright not suffering?” “No. No difference at all. No. Teachers think it’s easier for them and it may be but in terms of the effects of students, no. Now you’ve got to remember that a lot of students gain a tremendous amount of their learning from their other students in the class and variability is the way that you get more of that kind of learning from other students.”

This conversation happens all the time. Should we have general education classes grouped by academic ability? We had a great conversation about this in #slowchatpe on Voxer. There are many benefits of having mixed groups. I employ student coaches to help other students out in both physed and health.

Q1: What would be your ideal class size? Why? #slowchatpe

Q2: Do creating more schools and choices create a better education? #slowchatpe

Q3: What do you think is the proper amount of homework? #slowchatpe

Q4: Do you agree that mixed ability classes are the best for all students? #slowchatpe

Q5: Who is an expert in education that we should know about? #slowchatpe







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