In a pickle over smaller classes

28th November 2003 at 00:00
The growing row over the Executive's determination to limit English and maths classes to 20 at the early secondary stages is a salutary reminder that educational policies are not best born out of political expediency (page three). There is little doubt that the political capital the SNP was making in the last Parliament over its plans to reduce class sizes to 18 provoked Labour and the Liberal Democrats to try to trump them - and so the new policy was born.

It must have seemed a dream at the time. Here was something that might dish the Nats, flag up the Executive's preoccupation with literacy and numeracy, underline concern about the S1-S2 stages, require the appointment of more teachers and show a "prudent" attitude to expenditure.

But what it did not do was take account of the school rebuilding plans under way across Scotland; nor did it take account of whether schools wanted it in the first place. Ministerial rhetoric has been about freeing schools to find their own solutions to underperformance, so this policy is the antithesis of that.

It might have been thought that the juggling of staffing and accommodation to comply with the 30-pupil limit in P1-P3 would have acted as a warning, particularly when there is agreement that small reductions in class sizes have little or no effect. After all, practical subjects are already limited to classes of 20: is there any evidence they have commanding results?

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