PARENTS' procreative reluctance will shortly threaten the viability of many primary schools. Pupil-teacher ratios, however, will improve dramatically if a roughly similar number of staff continue to be employed.
Ironically, the Government's agenda of smaller classes is being achieved by the non-actions of the very families to whom ministers have made a policy commitment. The sharp fall in pupil numbers may also ease concerns about the teacher retiral timebomb.
Updated Scottish Executive statistics show a further fall in the pupil population over projections released last year, confirming an ever downward trend. Within five years, 40,000 fewer pupils will be in primaries and within 10 years the total will be 60,000 down on the September 1999 figure of 430,000. In effect, the missing pupils represent a whole year's primary 1 intake.
The Executive points out there will be an estimated 390,300 primary pupils in 2005, down 9 per cent. By 2010, this will fall further to 371,800, 14 per cent down.
The number of pupils entering the first year of rimary was due to drop by around 1,500 this session on the 1999 figure of 59,000 and will decrease by a further 3,000 over the next five years.
Figures for secondary schools are less immediately alarming because of increased staying-on rates. In contrast, over the next five years, pupil numbers are set to climb from 315,400 (September 1999) to 319,300 in 2003. But then analysts project a steady fall over the rest of the decade to 291,000, an 8 per cent fall or 24,000 fewer pupils. Within 10 years, the S1 intake will have fallen from the present 61,000 to just under 53,000.
Overall, 88,000 pupils will disappear from school rolls by 2010. That includes special schools and the independent sector.
Danny McCafferty, the local authorities' education spokesman, said the figures "should not be seen as a threat, more a golden opportunity". Authorities would have more freedom to tackle key areas such as the repairs backlog, improving teaching and learning in line with the McCrone recommendations, special needs and community learning centres.