Scots parents fear budget cuts and large classes

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Parents are concerned that standards of education in Scotland are at risk from reductions in funding, large class sizes and a lack of basic resources.

This emerges from a more detailed follow-up by System 3 to its earlier opinion survey of public attitudes to education, which was commissioned by the Educational Institute of Scotland. This time in-depth interviews were held in "focus groups" of parents whose children are still at school.

The findings will serve two purposes for the EIS, to endorse its own policies and to warn the Government in the run-up to the next election that there is what Ronnie Smith, the general secretary, described as a "bond" between teachers and parents.

The latest research was issued on the same day as the HMI report on standards and quality in Scottish schools (page three). Adults in the earlier poll agreed with the inspectorate that the majority of schools are performing well; 74 per cent gave a positive rating to standards of teaching, a figure that rose to 81 per cent among parents.

But parents part company with HMIs' view that schools are generally well resourced and staffed. System 3 reports that there is great concern over large class sizes, particularly the effect this has on discipline.

The report also adds: "The key factor which gives rise to the impression that standards may be beginning to fall in education is the lack of essential resources; human resources in the form of specialist teachers, and physical resources such as books and computers."

Mr Smith singled out one comment from a parent as the most damning statement about the state of education in 1996. "My son's to do his homework and then pass his book to a wee boy two streets away and that wee boy has got to pass the book to another wee boy."

Despite these funding problems and some critical comments from individual parents, "what is perhaps surprising about the report, given the comments recently from the two main political parties and the onslaught in the UK media, is just how little criticism there is about teachers supposedly not meeting the needs of schools and pupils".

The report drew out parents' views on the quality of teaching in detail by testing their attitudes to teachers' sense of commitment, pupil enthusiasm for attending school, teacher relationships with pupils, class discipline, pupil performance measures, homework and understanding individual needs.

It concludes that "the overall parental view is that most teachers are providing a satisfactory performance, often under very difficult circumstances". A few teachers are seen as unsatisfactory but parents are reluctant to complain to the school about them.

A less comforting message is the ambivalence which parents express about mixed-ability teaching, currently the focus of an HMI investigation. Parents reject rigid selection at 11-plus, according to the report, but they are not convinced that large mixed-ability classes are successful in helping to target "appropriate learning".

There is also support for removing disruptive pupils from the classroom to be taught separately, an issue linked by some parents to mixed-ability teaching which they see as more open to disruption by the less motivated.

* A one-day strike by lecturers planned for Wednesday at Coatbridge College was called off after the college authorities were granted a court order banning the action. The management argued that the staff side had given insufficient notice.

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