Smaller classes - a return to the cabins

29th August 2003 at 01:00
Years of campaigning for smaller class sizes in secondary as well as primary seems to have been accepted (albeit grudgingly) by the Scottish Executive.

If not across the board, the benefits at least in maths and English are going to be enjoyed by our pupils in secondary schools. It is a good breach in the wall as the case for this becoming widespread across the subjects is now much easier to make and the educational logic of opposing it becomes that much weaker. There is no logic for having it in English but not French; in maths but not history.

Let us remember the evidence from the United States of America where across the board reductions to maximum 20 in their equivalent of our S1-S3 have led to major improvements in motivation, attainment, behaviour, teacher stress levels, pupil and teacher absence and parental involvement.

However, the way things are panning out almost beggars belief. On Monday of last week as the pupils returned to schools, Glasgow announced that it would not be able to meet its commitments to maximum class sizes of 20 in S12 English and maths without bringing back temporary buildings - despite the secondary school refurbishment package which was supposed to end teaching in temporary huts.

It is not as if this was not pointed out to the Scottish Executive or the education department of Glasgow City Council. It did not take a genius to realise that building schools to the 1970s class size agreement was going to be problematic if the Scottish Executive finally accepted the powerful arguments and evidence from the rest of the world.

I have already argued in The TESS that there were three immediate difficulties in reducing class sizes in secondaries. First, staff shortages which had led some schools in the USA to bring in unqualified teachers.

There is evidence that this could be overcome in Scotland for English and maths. If it can be managed for those subjects, I believe it could be managed for most of the other non-practical subjects.

The second issue is money but, if the Scottish people and the Executive wished to do so, the money could be found.

Third, a shortage of accommodation which, despite warnings, was not even a tangential issue in the discussions over schools built under public private partnerships. Yet, it was always going to be easier to build in the extra space at an early stage.

Unbelievably, these schemes have led to less classroom space at exactly the point when more is needed for the class size reduction plans. Hence, the dreaded temporary buildings loom again. Parents, pupils and teachers should be furious, and rightly so, if they end up in these huts.

Henry Maitles

Head Social Studies

Faculty of Education

University of Strathclyde

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