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Government admits class size promise 'not feasible'

Education Secretary Michael Russell has given the clearest indication yet that the Scottish Government's flagship policy on class sizes is no longer a priority.

The capping of all P1-3 classes at 18 was a key part of the SNP's manifesto when they came to power in 2007, but this week Mr Russell admitted it would not be achievable any time soon.

It was "not feasible within the present financial settlement from the UK Government", he told the Scottish Parliament's education committee, and he mocked Labour education spokesman Ken Macintosh's question about class sizes as a "back- to-the-future approach" that dredged up an issue from an old manifesto.

Mr Russell has shifted the emphasis from class sizes to teacher quality during his time as Education Secretary, but he insisted that he still believed in the policy's merit and that "we have made very good progress" despite "very difficult times".

Legislation led to a statutory limit of 25 pupils in P1 classes from August, and the Government says that, at 23.1, average primary class size is at a record low for the third successive year.

The situation has become confusing, Mr Macintosh said, and pupils faced unsettling changes in class sizes from year to year. The Government had sold lower class sizes as crucial for raising attainment, he added. If there were "good, sound educational reasons, then even at a time of budget difficulties you still promote it".

The SNP's 2011 manifesto promised to continue reducing class sizes, stressed EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith.

"Any retreat from that promise will undermine the quality of teaching and learning," he said.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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