Note: This wikipedia scattergraph based on US data is the only one I could find. It shows the correlation between pupil/teacher ratio and attainment. It’s a negative correlation so the smaller the number of pupils per teacher the greater the reading performance. Admittedly, it’s not a very strong correlation suggesting other factors matter too.
There are now 543 more teachers in Scottish schools. In 2017, only 631 P1 pupils were taught in classes of more than 26 compared to 16 845 in 2006 at the end of the Lab/Lib Dem coalition.
There are 51 500 teachers in Scottish schools and the pupil/teacher ratio is now 13.6 pupils per teacher, down from (better than) 13.7 in 2016. This ratio is an important indicator of the time teachers have to engage with pupils and is likely to have played a major part in narrowing attainment gaps.
In England, there were 457 300 teachers in 2016, up by 400 from 2015. The pupil/teacher ratio in 2016 was 17.6 pupils per teacher. England’s population is almost exactly ten times that of Scotland, so you might have expected there to be around 515 000 teachers there. The increase of 400 teachers, in England, from 2015 to 2016, is small when compared with the Scottish Government’s increase of 543 between 2016 and 2017 in a country with a tenth of the population.
So, the pupil/teacher ratio in Scotland is significantly better than that in England. While the research evidence is not conclusive, the Department of Education in England would like to see smaller classes than the current ratio would allow. According to their own report, smaller classes inevitably increase: ‘the time when individual pupils are the focus of the teacher’s attention, increases active interaction between pupils and teachers and increases pupils’ engagement particularly for pupils attaining at lower levels.’
Department of Education (England) 2011: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/183364/DFE-RR169.pdf
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report, the attainment gap, in England and Scotland, is only the same for 11-year-olds (often difficult early adolescent boys) at 20% but the gap for 5-year-olds is only 16% in Scotland compared to 20% in England and for 16-year-olds the gap in Scotland is only 20% compared to 28% in England. Note the massive fall in the latter gap from 33% to 20% in the period of SNP Government.
The pupil/teacher ratio is only one of several factors likely to narrow attainment gaps, but it is an important one and one which governments can do something directly about. Once more, this suggests the SNP government in Scotland is making a difference, not seen under previous Labour/Lib Dem administrations and clearly not a high priority for the Tory one in Westminster.
Footnote: UK fee-paying schools use their ratio of 9 pupils per teacher as a marketing tool and say:
‘Significantly smaller class sizes are proven to improve academic achievement as the ability to spend more time with each child allows teachers to get to know their personal strengths, weaknesses and learning styles, ensuring that their individual needs are met.’