The Government and local authorities have got themselves into a right stew over class sizes (p1). They seem to have concocted a new authorised version which has blown up in front of them amid accusations of a policy U-turn. Yet anyone trying to make sense of the turgid reconfiguration presented to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities last Friday could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about and what exactly has changed.
According to the "new way forward", leading lights from Cosla and the Cabinet will sit down at regular meetings to demonstrate the creative ways in which they are trying to implement the policy, instead of constantly bemoaning how impossible it is to achieve. So far, so unconvincing. Councils will outline the fact that each of them is in a different situation and that "the pace of pursuit of class-size reduction (in P1-3) will vary from council to council". How exactly does this differ from the current ministerial mantra that councils should show "year-on-year progress" towards the target, taking account of local circumstances?
It is a sign of the pressure the Government is under on this issue that a new approach, which is as much designed to rescue its concordat agreement with local authorities as to shore up the class-size pledge, starts out as an exercise in reinforcing policy and ends up looking like a policy failure. Teachers will deduce from this whole affair that the Government is trying to wriggle out of its commitment on class sizes. Au contraire: the "new way forward" looks increasingly like a distinction without a difference.