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Few savings on assisted places

Labour has implicitly accepted that phasing out the assisted places scheme would only create 120 new primary teaching posts in the first year of a Labour government.

Helen Liddell, the party's Scottish education spokesperson, has acknowledged that only Pounds 5 million could be transferred in the first 18 months to two years. This would produce 240 posts to reduce pupil numbers in primary 1 to primary 3, calculated on the Pounds 21,000 cost of an average primary teacher.

Labour's plans represent one of the five key electoral pledges outlined by Tony Blair, the party's leader. They have already been dismissed by Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, as irrelevant to Scotland.

Mr Robertson said at the recent press launch of the Government's education White Paper that this was Labour's only spending commitment in education, yet it was largely a pledge based on the party's English preoccupation to reduce class sizes to 30.

He added: "There is no authority in Scotland where the average class size in the first three years of primary school is anywhere near 30." The average class size in the first three primary years was 25, he added, and if Labour plans to cut five pupils from the average as they propose in England this would cost around Pounds 17 million. Labour was therefore Pounds 15 million short.

The Educational Institute of Scotland pointed out last year, however, that nearly 80,000 pupils in primary 1 to primary 3 were in classes of more than 31.

In 1991, some 72,600 pupils in Scotland, 16.5 per cent, were in primary 1 to primary 3 classes of more than 31 but by 1995 that had risen to 79,600, 18.1 per cent.

The EIS believes the current financial strains facing local authorities will place class sizes under even more severe pressure, particularly if the Government is returned to power and and honours its commitment to sweep away the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee.

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