The Scottish Government has made the best of a bad job in bringing the force of law to bear on class sizes and placing requests (p3). Things could not go on as they were, with local authorities turning pupils away if P1 classes exceeded 25 pupils and parents mounting successful challenges in court on the basis that the only legal limit was 30. The fact that there is to be a new statutory maximum of 25 brings clarity.
Inevitably, there have been opportunistic charges that this means the Government has abandoned its class-size target of 18 pupils in P1-3. It is true that ministers may find their pledge impossible to achieve in a recession, but there is no logical case for leaping to such a conclusion. Does the existence of the current 30-pupil ceiling imply that the 18-pupil aspiration is dead in the water? Whatever one thinks of the class-size policy in principle - and the jury is veering towards scepticism of its educational value - the fact remains that the lowest-ever cap on P1 is now to be put on a statutory footing. But the promised review of the "patchwork quilt" of class-size arrangements must do its work quickly: after all, the battleground between authorities and parents could now simply shift to P2.
The threat the Government faces to this and other policies is, of course, the recession. Finance Secretary John Swinney's budget, with its draconian impact on teacher training and council coffers, will not exempt education, whatever the honeyed assurances about "protecting frontline services". Quite apart from the financial pressures, the concordat between central and local government has made councils masters of all they survey. Their chief executives have long viewed education as a fiefdom beyond their reach and they are now unlikely to put an overly-protective arm around it.