Editor's comment

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
We are clearly into a period of largesse, though perhaps not one of reality. Politicians are serially into promises. Not to be outdone, the unions and other interest groups have been egging them on.

Labour's class size pledge of a 25-pupil maximum in P1 is bettered by the SNP's of no more than 18 in P1-P3, while the Educational Institute of Scotland outbids them all with a demand for a limit of 20 pupils at every stage.

Whatever one's view of class size reductions (and they are, at best, a blunt instrument if the intention is to improve pupils' attainment rather than teachers' conditions), the litany of educational promises is breathtaking - and this is before the election campaign gets officially underway. Some of these promises have a sensible timescale or, at least, a timescale - such as Labour staging the increase in the school leaving age to 18 by 2012 and the Liberal Democrats moving towards all-day childcare over 10 years.

But we are, as noted, at the initial phase of the election campaign. Early pledges have to be finessed into manifestos and, if the voters return another power-sharing government, these will have to be trimmed by compromise, aka "partnership agreement". The serial makers of promises will find themselves reined in.

Perhaps, in the unlikely event that the parties are looking for a single issue over which to forge a consensus, it is not class sizes that should preoccupy them but this week's news about the soaring costs of childcare.

Around a third of average earnings is required to pay for a full-time nursery place. So at the time when influential opinion is endorsing the wisdom of investing in the early years, they are in danger of being priced out of the market. Ability to pay, or willingness to incur debt, could begin to affect pre-school education as well as post-school education. That is not a good omen.

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