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Bring back the nursery teacher

Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's shadow education minister, has pledged to put teachers back in nursery schools as one of her first tasks if the party is successful in next year's Scottish elections.

Glasgow has removed 35 nursery teachers but Ms Hyslop promised to restore the place of pre-school teachers as part of a revitalised early years strategy. The party wants to double the entitlement to nursery education and care for three and four-year-olds.

The party also plans to cut class sizes in P1-P3 to 18, although it will be left to teachers to decide the most appropriate figure.

Unveiling a consultation document on education in Edinburgh, Ms Hyslop promised to launch a review of school hours shortly after taking over the education hotseat but said there was no "radical rip up and change agenda".

Many aspects of Scottish education were working well and the SNP would build on that. A key theme would be "elective afternoons" to help schools function more effectively and create space for extra-curricular activities. This would dovetail with a focus on health and sport.

Ms Hyslop said that schools in the Lothians already shut at lunchtimes on Fridays and parents would appreciate more organised activities.

In line with that, the SNP is also proposing a guarantee of one week of outdoor education for all pupils and two hours of physical education a week. A further addition is the piloting of free school meals in primary.

Scottish pupils, Ms Hyslop said, spent more time in school than counterparts elsewhere in the western world - 1,000 hours against the average of 750 - but questions remained about the use of that time. In secondary, much of it was wasted moving between classrooms.

More controversially, the SNP is sticking with its belief in a baccalaureate for senior students, although Ms Hyslop maintained this was more about repackaging existing Higher Still courses.

On the international front, the party is backing more language teaching earlier in primaries, "rather than a short, fast focus in early secondary".

The SNP also supports the current Scottish Executive position on specialist schools but wants to extend the policy by encouraging all secondaries to develop at least one specialism.

In a "hedge the bets" policy, the party would back a review of mainstreaming and inclusion to ensure children with special needs have an appropriate choice. "Some pupils can be as isolated in a mainstream class as a special school," Ms Hyslop said.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Labour Party said: "Typically this offers nothing new from the SNP and the simple fact remains that their policy of independence would mean real cuts in core public services such as education."

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Scottish Conservative education spokesman, criticised the plans to encourage every school to specialise in a particular subject area.

Lord James said: "We have long called for specialist schools. But how can you have an effective specialist school if parents and pupils don't have some choice in which one they attend? Why should a budding scientist be forced to go to a language school?"

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