Class size stalks the agenda

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Observers who wrote off this year's annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland as likely to be a tedious repeat of last year's event were being slightly premature. It is more clear than ever before that the union is building a head of steam for significant cuts in class size (page four). Those for and against the particular motion that was narrowly defeated shared the same objective, differing only on tactics - not a new phenomenon at union conferences.

Certainly, there was nothing new either about the nature of those tactics, with the leadership opting for jaw-jaw and the activists eager for war-war.

As ever, those at the top sought refuge in entering talks with the Scottish Executive, turning to industrial action only if discussions prove fruitless. It's not that the EIS leadership is shy of industrial action - perish the thought. There might even be action should an interim report from the talks not be satisfactory, another elegant diversion.

Reduced class sizes are now seen not just as an end in themselves but as a means to other ends, the only way of coping with a myriad of discontents over discipline, inclusion, personal learning planning, for example. So what now? The Education Minister said at a conference on Monday that the EIS ambition of a limit on 20 pupils in all classes is "a very serious challenge for us", while the union's general secretary acknowledged it could not be achieved "in one fell swoop".

This is not a plan for tomorrow, in other words, but an aspiration for the years ahead. One only has to consider the school accommodation and teacher shortage problems thrown up by the current modest attempts to reduce class size to realise that. Patience will be required. Here's to next year's EIS conference.

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