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Budget bonus kicks off cuts in class sizes

The Government is to use pound;4 million of the extra pound;22.2 million made available to Scottish education in this week's Budget to make a start on reducing class sizes in primaries 1-3 to under 30 during the lifetime of the current Parliament.

Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said this was additional to the sums already been earmarked to fund Labour's key election pledge from phasing out the assisted places scheme over the next five years.

Mr Wilson said a joint study by the Scottish Office and the local authorities on the costs of cutting early years class sizes would be published within the month. The assisted places scheme, which subsidises children from less well-off families at independent schools, costs pound;14 million this session to fund 3,800 places.

A TES Scotland survey last August found there were 1,041 primary 1-3 classes with 31 or more pupils in 514 schools. This represents one in six classes in more than a fifth of primaries, affecting almost one in six pupils.

Mr Wilson admitted at a press conference on Wednesday that the issue was "complex". Our figures suggest that the extra classes would require an additional 258 teachers and 180 classrooms in the 24 councils which were able to provide estimates. This would cost pound;6 million for teachers and pound;13 million in capital expenditure.

But this week the Education Minister was basking in a Budget he described as "excellent news for families in Scotland and the extra for education is the icing on the cake". The Liberal Democrats dismissed the measures as "a few well-publicised goodies".

The rest of the money, for 1998-99, includes another pound;15 million for schools on top of the pound;200 million handed out last year. Mr Wilson said this should be targeted on IT investment, classroom resources and staff development but could be used to support classroom teachers.

Further education will receive an additional pound;1.4 million, child care pound;1 million and the Scottish University for Industry pound;880,000. The cash for the hard-pressed FE sector will be deployed "where it is most needed", and is unlikely to be spread around all the colleges.

Yesterday (Thursday) Mr Wilson also announced an increase in the number of training places for educational psychologists, from 24 to 34 a year over the next two years. Scottish Office support to education authorities will rise from pound;12,250 to pound;17,425 per trainee.

Psychologists warned last September of an impending staffing crisis and said shortages could derail Government priorities in early intervention, learning support and special needs.

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