Minister pledges extra 500 teachers
CLASS sizes in Scotland will be cut to 18 pupils in the first three years of primary school by employing more than 500 new teachers, the Scottish Executive promised yesterday.
Fiona Hyslop, the education minister, pledged 25 million to employ 300 more teachers this autumn and train an extra 250 for the future. A further 40 million has been committed to creating more classroom space.
Ms Hyslop told the Scottish Parliament yesterday that this will allow councils to begin reducing class sizes in primaries one, two and three in line with the Scottish National Party's pledge to bring these down to a maximum of 18. She also announced that, from the autumn, free nursery entitlement for all three-and four-year-olds will be increased to 475 hours a year.
But Ms Hyslop set no target date for the ambitious move, instead talking about a "staged process" that will see resources concentrated on reducing class sizes, in deprived areas first. Teachers groups said the lack of detail may slow the process, as there is no onus on councils to use the extra resources on cutting class sizes.
There was also concern that councils might cap school rolls to bring down class sizes so that parents are unable to get children into their school of choice. The demand for extra space could see prefabricated buildings or classrooms - set aside for music or IT - used due to delays in the building programme.
Opposition MSPs largely welcomed the move but complained the SNP had backtracked on its manifesto vow by failing to introduce a clear target on classroom size.
Governments have struggled to reduce class sizes in Scotland, which remain among the highest in Europe. Ms Hyslop cited a body of international research showing smaller class sizes were better for learning, including a four-year American study that showed 18 or fewer was the optimum teacher-pupil ratio. "Children need the time and attention to flourish," she said.
As well as the 550 new teachers, Ms Hyslop promised a "significant increase" in the number of students being trained as teachers on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the next few years.
"We want councils to focus these additional resources on deprived areas - where international research evidence indicates the greatest benefits will come," she said. However, Hugh Henry, Labour's education spokesman, accused the SNP of backtracking on "very explicit" promises to cut class sizes to 18 by failing to set a specific timescale.
Ronnie Smith, the general secretary of the teachers' union EIS, also called for a meeting between local authorities, teachers' groups and the Executive to decide class sizes.
"Phasing makes sense - it cannot be done overnight," he said. "But it is not just a question of targets, it is a question of how it is embedded."
But Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "Whilst a reduction in class sizes is good for teachers, it is not clear to me it has the same benefits for pupils."
• Ms Hyslop, was yesterday accused of a U-turn on reducing violence in schools.
Annual statistics show a damning indictment of pupil-on-teacher violence. However, amid concerns over cost, she has instructed officials to review the benefits of collecting statistics on violent incidents.
JOBS HELP TO EASE TRAINEES' WORRIES
CONTROLLING more than 20 children is a hard task for anyone. But for a male primary school teacher who until recently worked in construction, it is nothing short of impressive.
Graeme Hunter, 42, welcomed the Executive's move to reduce class sizes.
"It makes such a difference to the quality of education you can deliver," he said.
Mr Hunter also welcomed the minister's promise to employ 300 more teachers from this autumn.
It is hoped the move will relieve some of the concern of the 3,500 teachers due to complete their probationary year in June.
As one of those teachers, Mr Hunter, who previously worked in the steel industry and construction, said it has been a worrying time both for himself and many of his colleagues who also gave up lucrative careers to become teachers.
He says: "You would think we were in demand but at the moment we do not know where we are going.
"There are very, very few permanent jobs around.
"I know people who - if they do not get jobs in August - will be thinking about going back to their previous professions.
"We probably need to see light at the end of the tunnel because if we do not, people will get disillusioned and return to the jobs they did previously and that will be a loss of their experience to the profession."
The father-of-two remains optimistic about finding work but accepts he may have to become a supply teacher or even return to construction in the long term.
The problem is particularly bad in the Central Belt, where most teachers train.
The concern of probationary teachers was reflected in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
Hugh Henry, Labour's education spokesman, questioned whether the 300 new posts would solve the problem.
He pointed out that Labour had put aside enough money for 1,000 new teachers and called for a "guarantee" to all probationary teachers that they would be able to get a job in the autumn.
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