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Class sizes head union demands

David Henderson reports from the STUC in Edinburgh on the growing campaign against underfunding

Delegates to the Scottish Trades Union Congress on Monday rounded on 17 years of Conservative underfunding for schools, colleges and universities but avoided any reference to Labour's sensitive agenda for education.

Kathie Finn, a Glasgow teacher and STUC general council member, proposing the main education motion, said the country still retained a distinct Scottish education system, "but only just".

Primary testing, school boards and opting out had sought to undermine the comprehensive system, drawing on ideologies from south of the border, Ms Finn said.

"Schools are trying to deliver a new curriculum, working with groups and individual children in a classroom with 33 in a class. I want you to picture a primary 1 class where ages range from four years five months to five years six months and there are 33 of them. Try to picture doing that for five hours a day because that is what primary 1 teachers do," she commented.

Staff ratios in nursery schools were 1:10. Yet in primary 1, at a crucial stage of development, the most an individual child could expect was five minutes each day of the teacher's time. This was the pattern throughout the system.

"Schools have changed, teachers have changed, methods have changed but not the size of classes," Ms Finn said.

The situation had deteriorated with the advent of single-tier councils. Glasgow proposed to charge Pounds 5 for every half-day session at council nurseries if children live outside the city's boundaries. "For the first time, you are actually paying for education in the state sector," Ms Finn warned.

David McGinty, Educational Institute of Scotland, accused the Government of being the most "undemocratic and centralising" administration this century and of lying to parents over funding. Ministers suggested the increase in council spending was 2.9 per cent but the "real increase was 0.8 per cent". In his own area, Aberdeenshire Council had had to impose cuts in education of Pounds 11.5 million, the most severe to hit schools.

The Scottish response to ministers' arguments about levels of funding, delivered at the EIS-led demonstration in Edinburgh in February attended by 40,000 people, was unequivocal: "We do not believe you."

"The Scottish people do not want a reallocated Scottish block grant. They want a bigger Scottish block grant so that local councils can provide the education services Scottish people want," Mr McGinty said.

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