Stirling Council signs first concordat

There are no yardsticks or deadlines for measuring progress towards reducing infant class sizes in the first of the "concordat" agreements signed this week by a local authority and the SNP Government

There are no yardsticks or deadlines for measuring progress towards reducing infant class sizes in the first of the "concordat" agreements signed this week by a local authority and the SNP Government.

The "single outcome agreement" covers a plethora of commitments which SNP-led Stirling Council has undertaken to deliver in all its services over the next four years. It was signed there on Monday by John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, and Graham Houston, the council's leader.

The deal simply notes that Stirling Council is "working towards" reducing class sizes to 18 in P1-3. It says that 24 per cent of primary schools have already met that target. This is likely to be the formula struck by agreements in the other 31 local authorities.

The approach is in contrast to some highly specific pledges in the lifelong learning section of the agreement, which supports three of the 15 key "national outcomes" set out in the concordat between local and central government.

For example, as an earnest of its intention to "make Stirling a place where lifelong learning is valued and encouraged", the council says that, by 2012, it will increase from 87 per cent to 90 per cent the proportion of school leavers heading for education, training or a job.

It will also maintain the performance of pupils in S4 at its current levels, in relation to the national average and comparator authorities, pointing out that schools are already "significantly above" the national average - 42 per cent of fourth year pupils achieve five or more Standard grade Credit awards, compared with the Scottish figure of 34 per cent, and 29 per cent gain three-plus Highers against 21 per cent.

The proportion of school leavers emerging with at least a Standard grade 5-6 in English and maths is planned to move from 92 per cent to 95 per cent.

The agreement also commits the council to ensuring that 80 per cent of schools get a "positive inspection" of either "good" or better scores; at present, all Stirling schools are showing at least "adequate" or "satisfactory".

Mr Swinney said after signing the agreement with Stirling that it "recognises that one-size-fits-all solutions don't work at a local level". He added that all these agreements would "reduce the burden of monitoring and reporting, freeing local government to deliver more effectively the services people want and need".

Stirling points out that it is already achieving some of the Government's goals. Every pre-school child has access to a teacher, for example, although this is only the case in its own centres since not all private nurseries or playgroups employ teachers. It is in discussion with these other providers which would see them "buying into" a teacher-based scheme.

Similarly, all children already have a 12.5 hour entitlement to pre-school education, although not every parent of three-year-olds takes it up.

Under plans to stimulate adult learning, Stirling Council is holding talks with Forth Valley College to expand vocational opportunities.

The education service is also expected to make a contribution to council priorities on jobs, well-being and sustainability. There are plans to trim the 6 per cent of P1 children who are obese, and to reduce to 20 per cent from 26 per cent the number of pupils travelling to school by car or van.

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