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Large classes to be targeted as pupil numbers continue to fall

Neil Munro reports on the Scottish Executive's response to the national debate on education

CRITICISMS that overly large classes may be contributing to the faltering pace of learning as pupils move from primary into secondary are acknowledged.

There are plans to cut class sizes and improve pupil-teacher ratios in P7, S1 and S2, especially in maths and English. But this will be done by holding teacher numbers steady as pupil numbers fall (additional teachers will still be recruited up to 2006 under the teachers' agreement, but this will largely benefit primary schools where class contact time is being reduced to bring it into line with secondaries).

The blueprint calls for more learning in small groups. Support staff are urged to have "a greater role in working with groups of pupils", although there is no indication that this means giving them a role in actual teaching - a proposal which has incensed teacher unions south of the border.

The Executive shows no signs of backing down from the enthusiasm for setting espoused by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, in his major education speech towards the end of last year. The statement envisages an increased use of setting and "active learning methods".

Ministers also seem to have been impressed by Glasgow's "learning communities" approach (Viewpoint, page 22) which attempts to bring pre-school centres and primaries together with their local secondary in the one organisation.

They now want to see a range of pilot schemes developing closer working arrangements. This will include teachers working in both primary and secondary schools.

Other measures to improve teaching include implementing the continuing professional development regime for teachers, extending new community schools, reforming teacher training and reviewing the role of guidance in primary and secondary schools.

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