News from holyrood

14th December 2007 at 00:00
Opposition MSPs are pursuing a relentless line of questioning on a host of issues ranging from primary class sizes to university funding, which are intended to expose inadequacies in the policies of SNP ministers.

Labour members in particular have been putting down written questions in an attempt to elicit answers showing that schools and education authorities are not ready to implement the reduction of P1-3 classes to 18 pupils.

How many teachers will be trained in 2010-11, former education minister Hugh Henry asked? When will P1-3 children in West Lothian be taught in classes of 18 or less, Linlithgow MSP Mary Mulligan enquired? Will the Government provide the capital investment for authorities that decide to limit such classes to 18 pupils, Mr Henry tried again?

Ministers generally parry such questions, saying the information is not held by the Government or refuting implied criticisms (local authorities will have pound;3 billion to spend on capital programmes from 2008-11, Maureen Watt, the Schools Minister, told Mr Henry, although that will have to be spread over all council services not just schools; that is an annual increase of 15 per cent and in addition to pound;40 million specifically allocated this year, so schools can adjust their buildings to help reduce class sizes).

Ministers have been sticking closely to their scripts, repeatedly citing the "concordat" agreed with local government to offer reassurance on the survival of initiatives such as Determined to Succeed, and recalling the meeting Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, held with university principals which pledged to look at their future funding.

Occasionally, one-off issues arise in parliamentary questions, such as whether the West Dunbartonshire literacy programme will be extended throughout the country ("individual authorities and schools are free to make their own judgments," Children's Minister Adam Ingram replied) or whether the concordat with local authorities spell the end for school inspections ("they will continue to have an important role," Ms Hyslop said, although they would be "more focused and proportionate").

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