Class size reduction should benefit pupils

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
David Drever vice-president elect, Educational Institute of Scotland

The two letters on the subject of class sizes from representatives of the headteachers' associations make interesting reading (Tom Burnett, February 23; Charles McAteer, March 9).

It is worth remembering that the Scottish Executive was unambiguous in its 2003 commitment to reduce class sizes in S1-2 English and maths to a maximum of 20, and to reduce P1 classes to a maximum of 25. The "flexibility" to allow an average of 20, with an upper maximum of 29 in English and maths, only arose after canvassing by the headteacher associations. No other teacher organisations were consulted.

Following the predictable furore over the flexibility factor, Hugh Henry, the Education Minister, made clear that a maximum of 20 pupils should be the norm in S1-2 classes and that any class over 20 should be very much the exception, and then only if certain conditions are met.

Mr Burnett derides a "one size fits all" approach and makes the case for further investment in nursery education. I wholly support the latter point: the EIS recognises the vital building blocks role of early education and is actively campaigning for its extension and the employment of fully qualified nursery teachers to staff the service.

However, I take issue with the former notion of a blanket policy. Schools can continue to exercise professional judgments on class sizes, but the key point is that there is a maximum beyond which no one will go. This is what happens now: there is a size ceiling of 33 in S1-2 and schools exercise their judgment within that to vary sizes according to their needs.

Mr McAteer is right in thinking that parents want their children to be in stimulating, positive and orderly classes. That, presumably, was what the executive had in mind when it ordered the August 2007 reduction in sizes.

The overwhelming majority of Scottish teachers also want that, with an understanding that these benefits should be for all children, regardless of ability.

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