SNP u-turn on class sizes

Scottish Labour have dubbed a “disgrace” education secretary Michael Russell’s announcement on class sizes for primary school children in year one.

Scottish Labour have dubbed a “disgrace” education secretary Michael Russell’s announcement on class sizes for primary school children in year one. During a visit to a school in Livingstone, the minister announced he would be introducing regulations to cap class sizes for pupils in their first year of primary school at 25, with the aim of them coming into effect by autumn next year.

However, in its 2007 manifesto for elections to Holyrood, the SNP pledged (page 11) to introduce:

“Smaller class sizes, starting with a reduction in the first three years of primary to 18 or less.”

In a statement, Mr Russell said:

“Low class sizes through the increased teacher contact time they bring can play a key role in both raising pupil attainment and improving behaviour in the classroom. As our teachers put Curriculum for Excellence into practice, this is more important than ever.

I am absolutely committed to making sure an increasing number of pupils benefit from smaller class sizes. Good progress is being made and our work with COSLA has shown that we can continue to drive down class sizes through the flexibility in our agreement to deliver 20 per cent of primary one to three pupils in class sizes of 18 or fewer.”

Opposition parties reacted with anger at the SNP’s u-turn on a key manifesto pledge; Labour’s education spokesman Des McNulty called the announcement a “the last whimper of a now defunct policy”, adding:

“Reducing class sizes can only be delivered by employing more teachers, not through regulations. Hundreds of newly qualified teachers cannot find work because the SNP have allowed teacher numbers to fall by more than 2000, breaking their promise to keep teacher numbers at 53,000 the figure delivered by Labour.

Mike Russell’s abject failure as Education Secretary to deliver on the SNP’s solemn commitments on class sizes has let down parents, teachers and pupils the length and breadth of Scotland. The Minister has now confirmed via his announcement that nothing will happen to bring down class sizes before Autumn 2011, in all likelihood after the SNP have been dismissed from office.”

For the Conservatives, shadow schools minister Liz Smith was equally angry, saying:

“The SNP made a very specific manifesto pledge to deliver class sizes of 18 or fewer for all P1-3.

“Last year, after councils bluntly told the SNP that they couldn’t deliver this policy, that target was abandoned and replaced with a more ‘flexible’ 20 per cent and a blatant attempt to doctor the statistics by claiming that a class of 30 pupils with two teachers can count as two classes of 15. This is dishonest and is yet more proof of the abject failure of the class size policy.”

And for the Liberal Democrats, education spokeswoman Margaret Smith said:

“Teachers and pupils all over Scotland have had enough of the education secretary’s hollow promises.”

For some readers, this story may seem familiar. If so, there’s a good reason, since it was almost exactly a year ago that Left Foot Forward reported exactly the same manifesto U-Turn by the previous education secretary, Fiona Hyslop. It was not long until she was demoted.

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