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Class sizes on way down

Fiona Hyslop plans to start a 'staged progress' towards fulfilling the SNP's key election pledge

THE SCOTTISH executive will take its first steps next Wednesday to limit class sizes in P1-3 to 18.

The minority SNP government is confident of getting the measure through parliament, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats committed to re-ducing class sizes in one form or another. The atmosphere around the issue has calmed somewhat with the vote at the annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland not to take strike action to force the executive's hand - at this stage (p4).

Talking to The TESS this week, Fiona Hyslop, the Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, made it clear that she intended to avoid the political embarrassment of getting trapped by over-precise targets. Next week's announcement, she said, would be the beginning of "staged progress towards our objective".

She added: "Reducing class sizes was a key election pledge for us. I want to bring renewed momentum to the issue, making significant and steady progress year-on-year."

Ms Hyslop anticipated criticisms from local authorities that they would run into trouble finding the accommodation and finding the teachers to implement the pupil reductions. She said she "recognised the pressures on local authorities".

Initial estimates during the election were that reducing P1-3 classes to 18 would cost pound;35 million in 2008-09, rising to pound;70 million the following year and to pound;105 million in 2010-11.

Although the initial commitment will be to reduce class sizes in the first three years of primary, the Nationalists have also promised to go further and said that "headteachers will have the power to decide on the most appropriate class sizes in later years".

Ms Hyslop told The TESS that "early intervention" on several fronts would be the hallmark of her tenure in office - both for its own sake and to head off problems for young people later in their lives.

The class size reductions would reflect that, and the executive is also expected to demonstrate its commitment by a 50 per cent increase in free nursery education for three and four-year olds, which would mean the entitlement rising from 400 hours to 600 hours a year.

This week, Ms Hyslop was concentrating on higher education, fulfilling her party's plans to abolish the pound;2,289 endowment fee graduates have to pay to fund bursaries for poorer students. It will benefit this year's graduates if parlia-ment passes the necessary legislation by April 1 next year (details, see p3).

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