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Class-size deal on track

Russell gets boost as 23 education authorities pledge to cut numbers, TESS survey reveals

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Russell gets boost as 23 education authorities pledge to cut numbers, TESS survey reveals

The government is within striking distance of achieving its compromise deal on class sizes, The TESS can disclose.

Our annual survey of council education spending shows that 23 out of the 28 authorities who responded will be taking action to drive down class sizes in P1-3. They will spend over pound;6 million to meet the new target of having 20 per cent of P1-3 pupils in classes of 18 or fewer by August, which will benefit 11,000 youngsters in schools mostly serving deprived areas.

After the SNP Government's undertaking to achieve infant classes of 18 by the end of the current parliamentary session in 2011 ran into the sand, new Education Secretary Michael Russell attempted to kick-start the policy in a fresh agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The deal anticipated that the new class-size target would be paid for by giving councils flexibility to prioritise free school meals for children in the most deprived areas, rather than all P1-3 pupils, and easing the pressure to extend pre-schooling from 475 to 570 hours a year.

The TESS findings suggest Mr Russell's strategy may be paying off. Only Aberdeenshire, Highland and Glasgow have failed to commit funds to reduce class sizes. But Aberdeenshire is just 5 per cent away from the 20 per cent target, and intends to employ 50 more primary teachers by increasing school hours in the early years, while Highland has virtually achieved it at 19.45 per cent.

It is only Glasgow that remains adamantly opposed to what it calls a "reactionary, universalist reduction in class sizes across the board."

Mr Russell said the partnership between local and central government was "fully committed to making real progress on class sizes".

The most spectacular inroads to reducing class sizes will be in SNP-led Dundee, where 26 per cent of P1-3 pupils will be in classes of 18 or less by August, compared with 5.4 per cent at present, and in Edinburgh where the SLDSNP coalition is spending the largest sum in Scotland (pound;800,000) to bring 1,900 more pupils into such classes - up from 6 per cent to 20 per cent.

Other councils which have pledged to commit to the new target are West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, North Ayrshire and Fife. Scottish Borders, South Ayrshire and West Lothian will spend money on further reductions, despite having already exceeded the 20 per cent figure.

Although the focus has been on class sizes, 20 councils have opted to allocate money to extend free meals, mainly through breakfast clubs, at a cost of pound;3.2m. But only four authorities have chosen to devote resources (pound;887,000) to longer nursery hours; East Renfrewshire, Glasgow and Stirling say they have achieved it.

The number of pupils in P1-3 classes of 18 or fewer has increased from 10.8 per cent in 2006 to 13.2 per cent in 2009.

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