PRIMARY pupil numbers are set to fall significantly over the coming decade, which may make it easier for the Government to achieve the class size reductions it has pledged in the early years. Secondary schools will see a less dramatic decrease.
Figures released by the Scottish Office predict a steady decline from 440,600 primary pupils last September to 407,300 by 2003, an 8 per cent drop. But this will be followed by a further decrease to 383,500 primary pupils by 2008 - a 13 per cent fall.
There will be a sharp decline of 8,600 pupils entering primary 1, from 63,000 last September to 54,400 by 2008.
The figures underline the need for the new teachers being appointed to reduce class sizes to below 30 in the first three primary years to be deployed flexibly to take account of fluctuating rolls in schools, according to John Dobie, acting director of education in Edinburgh. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow want to retain the flexibility to switch staff under the class size initiative to "respond to changing needs".
The two cities are making 35 and 30 appointments, respectively, to ensure no primary 1 class has more than 30 pupils this session. But these appointments will be made to the authorities in the first instance, pending deployment to particular schools.
The secondary census figures show the numbers remaining stable at around 314,900 until 2004. There is then a steady fall to 296,700 by 2008, 6 per cent fewer than at present.
If, however, staying-on rates improve, the numbers will be only 3 per cent down on current figures in the course of the decade. By 2008, there will 54,900 pupils entering secondary school compared with around 61,000 today.