19th March 2010 at 00:00
Education Secretary Michael Russell was trying to be clear, he insisted, going so far as to describe himself as a "model of clarity"

But, while this might have been the target he set himself that morning while shaving, by around 11am, as he sat in front of the Parliament's education committee answering questions on class sizes, things were slipping.

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh began to doubt he was speaking English. Quickly, however, he decided he had not inadvertently adopted a foreign tongue and that, far from being unclear, the Education Secretary was being evasive.

This was more than Aileen Campbell, the Parliament's youngest MSP, could countenance. The SNP loyalist jumped to Mr Russell's defence, with a well- constructed and eloquent argument: "That's unfair!" she cried.

Vice-convener and fellow SNP MSP Kenny Gibson looked a bit embarrassed and patted her a few times on the shoulder; the adults continued to squabble.

The spat arose after Mr Macintosh pointed out that, in some authorities, smaller class sizes in P1-3 were leading to larger classes further up the school. What did the minister think of that, he asked?

Mr Russell had seen no evidence of larger classes further up the school, he replied.

But there was evidence, said Mr Macintosh, proudly wielding a wad of papers. Shetland and East Lothian had told the committee it was happening in their schools, he added, and North Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire had reported an increase in composite classes.

The policy would not harm the educational experience of any child, said Mr Russell. Then he said it again, and again, and again.

Irked but undeterred, Mr Macintosh turned his attention to the Government's pledges to introduce free school meals, increase nursery hours and maintain teacher numbers. When could Scotland expect these promises to be delivered?

Year-on-year progress would be made, said Mr Russell. Again, and again, and again.

All of this led The TESS to conclude Mr Russell is taking the same approach to clarity as to class sizes of 18 - setting himself more achievable targets.

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