Bid to cut Gaelic class size

6th August 2010 at 01:00
But Gaelic lobby's `special case' argument for upper limit of 15 pupils provokes outcry

Class sizes in Gaelic primary schools could be set at a much lower limit than in mainstream schools, if Scottish Government proposals win backing.

The Government argues that P1-3 and composite classes in Gaelic-medium units should be even smaller than its proposed maximum of 25 pupils in mainstream primaries, because of the "extra responsibilities" and "different task" faced by Gaelic-medium teachers trying to develop fluency in a second language.

"This classroom context is demanding; it includes extra responsibilities, requires additional skills and there is a case for suggesting that it merits a lower class size than mainstream classes," the Government says.

Bord na Gaidhlig, the body set up to promote Gaelic, has called for an upper limit of 15 pupils for Gaelic-medium classes in P1.

But the argument for making Gaelic medium a special case has provoked a backlash, with the Educational Institute of Scotland saying all teachers have to deal with "particular challenges".

Education convener Larry Flanagan said that in some primaries the majority of pupils had English as an additional language (EAL), while other schools had to cope with the effects of poverty which left some pupils lacking basic language skills.

"We are keen to see class sizes reduced to 20, but we would not argue that Gaelic should be a special case," he said.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, suggested the argument for smaller class sizes was "more compelling" for EAL pupils than for Gaelic medium.

The Glasgow Gaelic School, however, said the comparison was flawed because EAL pupils were surrounded by English in their daily lives while many of its pupils could only experience Gaelic in school.

Meanwhile, lawyers have claimed that the Government's proposed regulation for a new legally-binding limit of class sizes to 25 in P1 fails to close a legal loophole exposed by a landmark Court of Session judgment in 2008. Lord Woolman ruled at the Haddington Sheriff Court that "class sizes are not affected by pupils placed by sheriffs or appeal committees".

Earlier this year, the Government said it wanted to give councils the legal ability to limit P1 class sizes to 25 after a series of legal challenges by parents made it clear that the legal maximum was still 33.

Iain Nisbet, head of the education law unit at the Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, claims that the Government's draft regulations, as they stand, would still allow parents making a placing request from outwith a catchment area to breach the proposed 25-pupil limit if they mount an appeal.

"We have got a situation where effectively the only way to maintain the 25 maximum is by being dishonest with parents and keeping secret the fact that if they appealed, they would automatically be successful," he said.


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