Editor's comment

29th May 2009 at 01:00

One swallow doesn't make a summer. And the decision by two local authorities to allow schools to take up to 30 pupils in P1 does not set the bar for others (p1). Nonetheless, the move does illustrate the acute dilemma the SNP Government now faces in the "year-on-year progress" it agreed with councils towards a class maximum of 18 in the infant years. The law is clear, and has been since 1999 when regulations capping P1 classes at 30 were introduced; any other limits are covered by mere "guidance". There is also a clear legal right for parents to make placing requests.

But, while the law is the same now as it was a decade ago, the financial pressures on councils and the appeal of high-performing schools in areas such as the "three easts" (Renfrewshire, Lothian and Dunbartonshire) have highlighted the impossibility of leaving things as they are. The trouble is that there are only two solutions, both equally unattractive: provide councils with specific cash to achieve the policy, which is not a serious option amid the economic gloom and, in any case, goes against the grain of doing away with ring-fenced funding; or legislate for class-size limits of 18 in P1-3, which would be extremely costly and flout the agreement with councils in the concordat.

All the signs are that ministers will opt for a compromise, as is the wont of governments. But any move to set a new, lower class-size limit - unless it is 18 - will not get rid of the loophole. Another plan would be to do as John Stodter of ADES suggests, risk the ire of the Educational Institute of Scotland and give education authorities the right to fix class sizes. As things stand, the "year-on-year progress" towards the 18- pupil limit in P1-3 is beginning to look like a very lengthy journey indeed.

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