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Primary class sizes cut

300 new teachers are the first step of a pound;65m plan to reduce numbers

THE SNP Government made a tentative start this week towards its commitments on the early years, with a pound;65 million package which will lead to cuts in class sizes, as well as injecting more teachers and accommodation into the system.

Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, said in a parliamentary statement that these were "early steps" for the early years.

Although the SNP's manifesto commitment was to limit class sizes to 18 in P1-P3, this will be done in stages. The first step is to provide local authorities with extra funding to employ an additional 300 teachers from the start of the new session in August at a cost of pound;9 million.

But these new posts will serve a variety of purposes, not just to limit class sizes in the early years of primary. They will be targeted first on the pre-school stages and then on reducing numbers in P1-P3 - focused on deprived areas only.

The additional numbers are also intended to improve job prospects for probationer teachers completing their induction year.

Ms Hyslop has already made it clear that early intervention in the initial stages of schooling will be her priority. So her statement revealed that the entitlement of three and four-year-olds to nursery education would be increased from 400 hours a year to 475. Her party's aim is an increase to 600 hours.

"Early years investment is an area that has the potential to make a central contribution to objectives that we have set for Scotland - to be smarter, wealthier, greener, healthier, safer and stronger," Ms Hyslop told MSPs.

An early years strategy, covering child care, development and education, will be published in the summer of 2008.

In addition to the new teachers starting in August, Ms Hyslop gave notice that she would be paying particular attention to teacher training and would "radically increase" intakes.

This week, she announced an increase of at least 250 places for postgraduates to embark on teacher training next session and that the numbers on BEd courses would be increased "to their highest level in at least a decade."

Ms Hyslop added: "These increases in teacher training will only be the beginning of the progress we need to see. Following the autumn workforce planning exercise, I will be announcing still further increases in intakes for the one-year programme."

The minister said she would aim to bring more primary teachers into the profession through the four-year BEd, not just the one-year postgraduate course, which has been a quicker way of turning the recruitment tap on and off. "The one-year and four-year routes attract different types of high-quality teachers," Ms Hyslop said, "and it is important that each is kept as a healthy and stimulating route into the profession."

She went on to say that the Government wanted to see initial teacher education provided in a wider range of places, as well as more specialisms in science, the expressive arts and early years learning.

Ms Hyslop also revealed that local authorities would have another pound;40 million to spend on additional accommodation to meet the class size reductions. The total cost of the extra teachers and early years commitments would be pound;25 million.

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