A matter of size – “the right size” school for every student

School size can be a key factor in school selection. It can also be a defining characteristic of a school, so much so that in LCS’s case, the Trustees have decreed that the school shall not have a student body of more than 365. Sometimes we end up at 366 when the dust settles at the end of our offer period, but to end up with 367 we have to get Board Chair approval. We don’t bother asking about 368 as we know that is out of the question. Why is size so closely guarded? It can matter in so many ways when choosing the right school.

Overall School Size
Overall school size limits what classes can be offered. It is great to have a high school of over 400 or 500 when offering the IB as you need more students to ideally and affordably offer everything at the higher and standard levels. But if you could have a more intimate school experience wouldn’t you want to? LCS’s Trustees recognize this as a hallmark of the LCS Difference, where the Head of School can know each student and every student can be known by their teachers and classmates.

A school needs to be just large enough to easily offer the courses that matter to getting into the best schools worldwide in any field of study – this is what LCS does. Too small, and students have a very limited range of courses. LCS may not have quite as many course offerings as larger schools but we have everything that gets you to where you want to go.

Size of Residences
LCS averages 23 students in its eleven residences, most other schools I have worked or consulted for have had 40 or more students per house. LCS uses Head of Houses and Assistant Head of Houses to provide supervision and continuity that most closely approximates a family environment with two adults interacting daily with the students in the residence. Larger residence setups of forty or more often have ‘duty teams’ of teachers or dons who take turns providing supervision sometimes working one night every two weeks in a rotation, supervised by the Head of House.

Size of Class
LCS averages between 16 and 17 students per class on a year to year basis, not 12 or 24. Sometimes, but not always (such as the case with a few schools with very large endowments) class sizes averaging 10-12 students can represent a school for students with greater learning support needs. Smaller classes give teachers and students more one to one time and time to digest course content.

Class sizes averaging 20 to 24 or more can sometimes indicate large grade sizes with multiple sections of every course. More students in class means less time for discussion or one to one time with teachers. Students need to be more self-directed and proactive about seeking assistance and more comfortable with holding up a larger group to clarify understanding of content. If students are less inclined to do so, this is when parents might like to pay closer attention to class sizes when selecting a school.

The middle ground seems to be a class average around 16 to 18 students. There is still time for one to one clarification, students will be called upon frequently to contribute in class, it is difficult to hide or get lost and teachers can easily differentiate their instruction to meet different learning styles and needs within their classrooms.

If parents can effectively gauge the self-directedness* of their child (homework completion, organizational skills, curiosity, and maturity), average class size can be a very useful indicator of a potentially good school to bring out the best in their child.

*Note: For parents with students with identified learning differences, average class size can still be an indicator. Generally, the smaller the class size the less time a student with learning support needs will need to spend outside of regular class time with resource teachers, tutors, and supervised study. Generally, the larger the average class size, the more the student with identified learning needs may need to spend with learning support resources outside of classroom hours. This can make daily participation in after school activities difficult to manage.

Size of Grade Level
The overall size of a grade level can have an impact on how much that grade mixes with another grade level. At LCS, thanks to the small residences which are a mix of boys and girls from Grade 9 through12, they are closer to their housemates in different grades than when they are in a large house where grade level distinctions can sometimes have younger students excluded. Outside of their house, older and younger housemates bridge the “grade divide” and lead to a school community where anyone can feel comfortable hanging out with anyone of any grade level.

Size certainly matters in defining school culture. It makes a difference in the residence and in the classroom. Luckily, it is one of the easiest things to look for when researching schools as most schools will mention the size of their student body or average class sizes in their short descriptor. These two websites help parents quickly find information about school size and average class size. The first for the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools allows you to search by overall school size. The second for Our Kids provides average class size and overall school size in each school profile.