Primary pupils are the ones losing out

11th December 2009 at 00:00

The Scottish Government has lost its vision of the importance of education in society. Not only has it reneged on its campaign pledge regarding class sizes, it is proposing a drastic cut in the number of places for initial teacher education from session 2010-11 onwards - including a 70 per cent reduction in the number of places for graduates to qualify as primary school teachers.

These cuts will severely restrict opportunities for people to enter the profession, and make it increasingly difficult to reduce class sizes, improve pupil-teacher ratios and enhance the quality of teaching and learning in Scotland's schools in future.

Newspaper headlines about unemployed teachers may be seized on by politicians to justify reducing numbers of initial teacher education places - but short-term expediency will have long-term negative effects on teaching capacity. The problem with teacher unemployment is a failure of political will to implement the policy of reducing class sizes.

School education provides the key to young people's life chances. Their experiences of learning, and the skills and capacities they develop during these vital years, prepare them for the challenges they will face through the rest of their lives. It is for this reason that Scotland needs well- qualified teachers in sufficient numbers.

Scottish society is divided by poverty and deprivation. The years of schooling are the best (if not the only) time to provide children with the educational experiences that can help them escape long-term disadvantage.

The need to engage more teachers to reduce class sizes is particularly important in primary schools - yet this is the sector worst hit by the reduction in student teacher numbers. There is abundant research evidence to show that early intervention in the primary years, including one-to-one approaches such as reading recovery, have long-term beneficial effects for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If Scotland is seriously committed to social justice and ensuring that all children have the best possible educational opportunities, we should be engaging more teachers to support learning in these crucial years. Cutting the number of primary teachers is one of the worst things we could do for our children.

Linda Croxford, Centre for Educational Sociology, University of Edinburgh.

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