Averaging is not the way to go

15th June 2007 at 01:00
From heated debate on class sizes to concern about private business having too much influence in education policy, Elizabeth Buie and Henry Hepburn report from the Educational Institute of Scotland's annual conference in Perth

CALLS FOR industrial action to achieve the union's class sizes goal failed by 110 votes to 184.

But the debate - easily the most heated in an otherwise broadly consensual conference - put class sizes at the top of the union's priorities for implementation by the new Scottish Executive.

Delegates agreed to back moves to have maximum class sizes of 20 enshrined in their conditions of service in negotiations within the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. They also criticised the previous executive's decision to give headteachers the flexibility to "average"

class size in S1 and S2 for English and maths - allowing them to create some classes of more than 20 if they felt there were benefits in creating some smaller classes.

Peter Quigley, in his presidential address to the conference, warned that "averaging" would put the union's members in a vulnerable position if a consistent policy of no more than 20 pupils per class was not followed. "If a school or an authority intends to breach the 20 maximum, then they must explain how they will ensure that any member who insists on a maximum of 20 enjoys the same rights as our colleagues in practical subjects to enjoy that right without detriment," he said.

If schools and local authorities continued to pursue "averaging", then they would have to explain how they would carry out the consultation with parents required under a directive issued earlier this year by Hugh Henry, the former education minister, said Mr Quigley.

His term as president of the EIS has now ended, but Mr Quigley warned that parents might take legal action if they felt they had been wrongly advised to place their child in a class with more than 20 pupils if he or she subsequently fared badly in exams.

Delegates were told that the union's class size campaign in the run-up to the Scottish elections had paid dividends.

"All the political parties struggled with each other to find a class size smaller than the last one. The current executive came up with the lowest class size of all. A threat of industrial action at this time is mistimed and misplaced," said David Drever, incoming vice-president.

Charles McKinnon, a social subjects teacher in Glasgow, said he was tired of being promised "jam tomorrow". He had been teaching for 30 years, and the class size he taught in 1977 was essentially the same as the one he would face in August this year.

However, Larry Flanagan, principal teacher of English at Hillhead High in Glasgow and the new education committee convener of the EIS, said that, in his school next term, instead of having five classes of 30 pupils in S1 and S2 for English, there would be eight classes of 18.

Andrew Fullwood, from South Lanark-shire, argued that those who wanted averaging and flexibility on class sizes were really talking about setting according to ability.

"Setting by ability is setting by social class, race and gender. We have got to push this forward and get it (class size maxima) enshrined in our contract to protect the future of our education," he said.

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