Classroom size isn't everything

7th July 2006 at 01:00
The unions may have a perfectly legitimate cause to champion in upping the ante on reducing class sizes (page one). The question is whether their members' interests and the interests of education coincide. The Educational Institute of Scotland, of course, has always believed that "the promotion of sound learning" and the conditions in which teachers teach are inextricably linked. And there is certainly little doubt the EIS has redoubled its efforts to reduce class sizes as a result of what it perceives to be a deterioration in its members' conditions.

But if one thing is clear from the report by the ministerial review group (on which the EIS is represented), it is that the issues are far from clear. How can one disentangle the relationships between class numbers, quality of teaching and teaching methodologies, for example? Do the unions want smaller classes to boost attainment or simply alleviate the burdens on their members? If it is the former, how does one explain the impressive results for Scotland on the international Pisa rankings with current class numbers? If it is the latter, what evidence is there that the EIS's magic number of 20 pupils per class is soundly based?

All this points to the wisdom of hastening slowly. The EIS wants across the board class size limits; the Scottish Executive prefers a targeted approach. It seems highly unlikely, given the executive's struggle to recruit more teachers to meet ministers' current plans to cut pupil numbers in P1, S1 and S2, that it will readily countenance new hostages to fortune.

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