The main benefit of the oblong shape of schools of fish is supposed to be the protection against predation. Models of self-organised travelling groups have shown that this shape may arise as a side effect of the avoidance of collisions with group members. These models were developed for schools of fish in open water, whereas the oblong shape of schools of real fish has mostly been observed in schools in tanks. Therefore, it is not known how school shape in a tank originates neither in models nor in real fish. To find out what causes this shape, we use the combination of a theoretical and an empirical study. We test the predictions produced by our earlier models regarding the effect of school size on the school shape both in a model of self-organised schooling in a tank and empirically. Empirically, we study the 3D positions of all individuals in the schools of 10–60 real mullets (Chelon labrosus). We calculate for each individual its distance to its nearest neighbour and its velocity and we measure per school its length and width. The relation between school shape and size in the model and in the real mullets supports our prediction and thus supports the hypothesis that school shape may be emergent from the avoidance of collisions during coordinated travelling.