Target exceeded in class-size reduction

3rd December 2010 at 00:00
But team teaching of 36-strong groups helped meet goal, figures reveal

The national class-size reduction target agreed a year ago with local authorities has been exceeded, the Education Secretary, Michael Russell, announced jubilantly this week.

But scrutiny of the figures reveals it was only by dint of including classes of up to 36, where two teachers were team teaching, that the goal was met.

The statistics also showed a significant increase in the number of P1-3 pupils being taught in classes of 26-30 in the past year - last year's figure of 33,888 rose to 40,867. When classes of 31 or more are included, the figure goes up from 35,259 to 42,616.

Last December, the Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities set a national target of 20 per cent of P1-3 pupils to be taught in classes of 18 or fewer. For the first time since the Scottish National Party set its class-size policy, Mr Russell gave councils leeway to measure class sizes by pupil-teacher ratios, allowing them to include team teaching.

The publication this week of a compendium of education statistics shows that in September, only 18.1 per cent of P1-3 pupils were taught in classes of 18 or fewer, but when classes of 36 or fewer taught by two teachers were included, the figure rose to 21.7 per cent.

Finance Secretary John Swinney's announcement last month of his draft budget deal with Cosla underlined the Government's new commitment to pupil-teacher ratios in P1-3. It was part of his deal to maintain local government's share of the overall Scottish budget and continue the council tax freeze. Councils also had to undertake to provide jobs for all probationer teachers next August.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed the progress in cutting class sizes to 18 - from 13.2 per cent in 2009 to 18.1 per cent this year. But he decried the "enormous divergence" which saw a rise in classes of 26-30 from 21.7 per cent to 25 per cent this year.

"There may be progress on one front, but there is regression on another front," he said.

The Government statistics also showed a further decline in the number of teachers employed - 52,188 this year, a drop of 796 from last year.

Mr Russell said this showed the "downward trend in teacher numbers has slowed significantly", and would provide a solid foundation for the budget deal on teacher employment agreed with Cosla leaders.

But Mr Smith pointed out that the shrinkage in pupil numbers was 0.5 per cent, whereas the decline in teacher numbers was 1.5 per cent.

"We are losing teachers at a rate three times faster than the decline in pupil numbers and that is not sustainable," he said.

Isabel Hutton, Cosla's education spokesperson, hailed the class-size target figures, saying: "This success is down to the investment and support that local government provides to education, even when times are tough. This is good news, but we must remember that reducing class sizes is not a magical solution to the education challenges we face."


Absence - authorised and unauthorised rose to 6.7 per cent, compared to 6.6 per cent in 2009.

Exclusions - down 11 per cent from 33,917 cases last year to 30,211.

Leaver destinations - 86.8 per cent of 2009-10 leavers went on to HE, FE, employment, voluntary work or training - up from 85.7 the previous year.

Temporary contracts - up from 15 per cent to 16 per cent.

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