Class size cuts by September

14th August 1998 at 01:00
The "landscape of primary education" will change dramatically with the Government's multi-million pound investment in classroom assistants and early intervention, Elizabeth Maginnis, Edinburgh's education convener, predicted at the launch of a pound;10 million spending package.

The extra cash is said to reverse 10 years of cuts, although Mrs Maginnis admitted it could be a further five years before there is significant evidence of improved standards.

In advance of next year's council elections, Labour in the capital has raised the political stakes by detailing how the Government's extra spending for schools will be deployed this year and beyond.

Around pound;3 million is extra cash from the local authority's own savings while the rest of the pound;10 million is New Deal for Schools money. It adds 5.9 per cent to the education budget and is being spent in the current financial year.

Mrs Maginnis said the introduction of classroom assistants would eventually bring down adult-child ratios in all primary classrooms to 1:15 within four years, a Government target. Edinburgh currently has the second worst primary teacher-pupil ratio in Scotland at 20.7:1. The national average is 19.6:1.

John Dobie, acting director of education, said around 530 additional assistants would eventually be employed once they had been through training. Nursery nurses are the likely targets.

Although the Scottish Office has yet to offer guidance on training, recruitment and conditions, salaries are likely to range from pound;10,000 to pound;12,000.

To kick off the spending spree, Edinburgh is recruiting 35 primary teachers at a cost of pound;400,000 and promises further increases over the next three years to meet the Government's election pledge on cutting class sizes in the first three years of schooling. Staff will be allocated in September once exact class numbers are known.

Mrs Maginnis said: "No primary 1 pupil in Edinburgh will have a teacher-pupil ratio of greater than 30 by September and we are giving a guarantee that this will be extended to every pupil in P2 and P3 by the year 2001."

She accepted more team teaching would be used to bring down the ratios, along with the extra teachers and assistants. "If these things do not begin to make a breakthrough for children, I do not know what will. We are bringing down ratios to the levels researchers tell us make a difference," Mrs Maginnis said.

"We are shifting the landscape of primary education in the city and in five years' time children in primary 4 and onwards will be starting from a significantly higher plane than the cohorts that have gone before."

Staffing changes would herald other significant developments. "Teachers will no longer be the single charismatic leader in the classroom and that changes the nature of teaching," she forecast.

As part of the spending package the city is piloting a further eight "wraparound" care projects in nurseries and nursery classes, open from 8am to 6pm.

Mrs Maginnis said it would allow women to take up opportunities and help establish a base for lifelong learning. By next August, every parent of a primary child would be offered after-school provision if they wanted it, "effectively ending latchkey children".

Within four years, every child would have a nursery place and "wraparound" care from the age of three. "We are blurring the boundaries between straight education support and child care and we are moving towards an 'educare' model, looking at family needs," Mrs Maginnis said.

Most of the windfall cash is going into nursery and primary education but Mrs Maginnis said secondaries would benefit from the addition of pound;1 million to per capita spending. Each school would be better off by pound;50,000.

Around pound;6 million is being invested in new technology while pound;1 million had been spent in the past year on Higher Still training, the convener said.

Edinburgh is also planning to build 10 new schools through the private public partnership (PPP) scheme that replaced the private finance initiative.

Almost pound;58,000 has been added to the high school bursaries budget to encourage more students to stay on into the fifth and sixth years.

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