Committed on class size target
The latest pupil census figures, for September 2003, showed that the average primary class size is at an all-time low, down during the year to 23.7 from 24; in 1997, when Labour came to power, the figure stood at 24.7.
There have been reductions at every stage from P1 to P7.
The Executive is committed to making further inroads by limiting P1 classes to 25 instead of 30 by 2007, which sits alongside its plans to cut class sizes in maths and English to 20 for S1-S2 pupils.
But the census figures show that ministers' initial ambitions to reduce the size of P1-P3 classes to 30 have still not been achieved, two years after the target date.
The numbers are small, however - 1,565 pupils, or 5.8 per cent of the P1-P3 total in 74 single-stage classes. And the census tables point out that many of the oversize classes are taught by two teachers.
The figures reveal that this may have to become more commonplace if the Executive is to reach its goal of having a ceiling of 25 in P1 classes within three years. A significant 44 per cent of pupils in 36 per cent of single-stage classes are above that level at present, although the average P1 class size is 23.2.
Peter Peacock, Education Minister, made clear, however, that the Executive will be pressing on with its plans, which have drawn criticism from headteachers and directors of education for being unnecessarily dirigiste.
Despite continuing progress on reducing class sizes, Mr Peacock said: "We plan to go much further," citing the commitment to have another 3,000 teachers in place by 2007.
"We are targeting these teachers where they can make the most difference - in the first year of primary, in maths and English in the first two years of secondary, and increasing the number of specialist physical education teachers."