Editor's Comment

27th August 2010 at 01:00

The review group on class sizes, set up by the Government last November, is to be commended. Debates on this subject are too often polarised, as union manifestos, government policies, educational rationale and financial sense all do battle with each other. The Cameron review has managed to scythe its way through all that and come up with something that is desirable and, more to the point, achievable. In doing so, it has succeeded in reconciling the views of unions, local authorities and the Government - or at least their representatives.

The group agreed that size matters, but that the real question is to what extent it matters. The truth is that it matters in some places more than in others, and that reducing class numbers will make little difference without quality teaching and leadership. But of course, as the group also agreed, there must be limits if teachers are not to be overwhelmed and quality teaching is to be given a chance. So it recommends a statutory ceiling on class sizes to ensure consistency across the country, along with minimum staffing levels for each school. Thus, there will be national standards and local autonomy, rather than a fixation with whatever figure is flavour of the month.

The question now for the Government is what it is going to do about these recommendations. Although the policy of no more than 18 pupils in P1-3 can be traced back to the Education Secretary's days in opposition, Michael Russell can reasonably argue that team Cameron is not suggesting that he throw his baby out with the bathwater. In the spirit of the "realism" and "pragmatism" which are his professed watchwords, he should embrace the review group's compromise. In times of recession and public spending retrenchment, a major reduction in class size is not an idea whose time has come.

Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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