Sniping on size

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
Every party facing an election needs a big, easily remembered message. For the Scottish National Party, knowing that education will be a major theme in the general election (even although the future of Scottish education will rest for the foreseeable future with Jack McConnell regardless of the outcome), a dramatic reduction in the maximum size of early primary classes is the big idea.

The policy paper released this week, which will reappear in the SNP manifesto, suggests cutting P1-P3 classes to 18. That raises questions that Labour in particular will quickly latch on to. Why put all the emphasis on the first three years? What would happen to children from P4-P7 whose continued progress after the removal of early intervention strategies should already be under the microscope and who might now find their class size almost doubled? Wuld it not be better, though less headline grabbing, to argue for smaller classes throughout primary, a challenge Labour at both Westminster and Holyrood has failed to address?

The SNP paper does not explain where the extra teachers would come from. There is already doubt about finding enough to satisfy the McCrone agreement. Cost is one thing, availability of recruits another.

Mr McConnell is keen to contrast his attempts to tackle the problems of underperforming teachers and schools with the SNP's conservatism. The attack may be unfair but it highlights the difference between a party able to take initiatives, as Mr McConnell certainly has, with one criticising from the sidelines. The SNP's problem is the more immediately acute in that it seeks power in the Edinburgh Parliament while having to fight for Westminster.

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