Committed to smaller classes

9th March 2001 at 00:00
The questions in your leader (TESS, February 23) about SNP education policy (assuming that they were not just rhetorical) can be easily answered, and I would have been happy to do so had someone just lifted the phone.

Why all the emphasis on the first three years? Because international research shows that by reducing class sizes to 18 or below in the first three years of formal schooling produces tremendous benefits in attainment in later years, and contributes significantly to a reduction in the need for subsequent intervention and in problems of truancy and indiscipline. It is simply the best investment to make.

What would happen to children in later primaries? I made it clear at our press conference that I was committed to a progressive and continuing lowering of class sizes at all levels. If we continue to seek such reductions by the time of full implementation of our principal policy, class sizes in the upper primary should be at 25 or below - and we will endeavour to reduce it further. But class size is particularly crucial in the early years.

Should we not argue for smaller class sizes throughout primary? I am strongly in support of any reductions that can be achieved and I agree with your leader writer who points out that Labour have failed in this area.

I have regularly offered my supportfor real initiatives that cut class sizes, not spin that covers continued lack of achievement. However, the biggest impact on standards, on individual pupils and on society comes from the reduction to below 18 in primaries 1, 2 and 3 and that is why we are proposing it.

I, too, am concerned about teacher recruitment and training and that is why I have been arguing for a new look at recruitment and training procedures with the aim of increasing the throughput of potential teachers as quickly as possible.

The SNP's plan to introduce lower primary class sizes is deliberately phased to take account of potential problems and to adopt an incremental approach to the cost involved but we will also bring forward the means by which we can get into the classroom high quality recruits as quickly as practicable.

The SNP is not "sniping on size" nor is it "headline grabbing", as your leader seems to suggest. We are putting forward well-sourced and well-planned policies which will benefit the whole of Scotland's educational community. I am sure that you endorse that aim - I hope that in time you will also endorse the policies that are most likely to achieve it.

Michael Russell MSP

Shadow Minister for Children and Education

Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

SNP stakes out its ground, page 6


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