Scots primary school class sizes grow as teacher numbers fall

The number of pupils in Scotland's primaries being taught in larger class sizes of more than 30 has soared to more than 44,000, it has emerged.
Scottish Labour has called on education secretary John Swinney to offer more support to teachersScottish Labour has called on education secretary John Swinney to offer more support to teachers
Scottish Labour has called on education secretary John Swinney to offer more support to teachers

It marks a 40 per cent increase since 2011 and has prompted accusations that Scotland has some of the “biggest class sizes in the world”.

In 2016, the pupil census showed that 44,667 (11 per cent) of Scotland’s 396,697 primary pupils were in a class of more than 30.

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That compares to 31,842 (9 per cent) of the 366,429 pupils in 2011.

It prompted fresh calls to use the Scottish Parliament’s income tax powers to invest more in education.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “The SNP came to power promising to cut classroom sizes –instead it has just cut the number of teachers in our schools.

“Promises, pledges and PR stunts on education cannot hide the SNP’s dismal record on our schools – 4,000 fewer teachers, £1.5 billion cut from local budgets, super-sized school classes and a stubborn attainment gap between the richest and the rest.”

Mr Gray highlighted comments made earlier this week by EIS president Nicola Fisher at the SNP’s conference in Glasgow that teachers were “on their knees”, with low pay and high workloads taking a toll on mental, physical and emotional health.

He said: “Not only has the SNP betrayed parents and pupils with this broken promise – it is one of the reasons John Swinney was told to his face at the SNP conference that Scottish teachers are ‘on their knees’.

“Just as ten years of the SNP has left Scottish teachers among the lowest paid and most overworked in the developed world, they have also delivered some of the biggest class sizes in the world in Scottish schools.

Nicola Sturgeon put her top minister in charge of the education brief but John Swinney has found himself overwhelmed and is unable to explain how his misguided reforms will cut class sizes.”

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Other speakers at the SNP conference highlighted school and exam reforms which have created extra work for teachers, with evidence that many were thinking of leaving the profession.

Ms Fisher urged Mr Swinney to do more to tackle the issue of overwork, claiming that it was “the iceberg of the education system” because much of it was hidden.

“People think they understand the scale of the problem because they can see the tip, but unless you are experiencing it day in, day out, you cannot hope to grasp the full horror of what lurks beneath the surface,” she said.

“The contractual hours for teachers are 35 hours per week, so we know there are teachers in this country working double the number of hours for which they are paid.

“Even then, all the work isn’t done. Even if you are knocking yourself out all day, every day, you never ever get to the end of the work. That’s an incredibly stressful position to find yourself in.”

Ms Fisher said many teachers were suffering from depression and fatigue.

Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government had taken steps to protect teacher numbers and increased intakes of training courses. “The challenge we have got is that there are not enough available teachers to fulfil those protected numbers,” he added.

Nicola Sturgeon has said education will be her priority in office and pledged to drive down the “attainment gap” between richer and poorer areas of Scotland.

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Responding to figures showing a jump in the number of primary school pupils being taught in larger classes, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “In 2010, we legislated to reduce the maximum class size in primary one to 25, its lowest-ever level.

“Since then, the number of P1 pupils in a class size of 26 or more has decreased by 90 per cent from 6,896 in 2010 to 698 in 2016. We are reforming the education system to close the poverty-related attainment gap and target resources at the children, schools and communities which most need them. We are investing £88 million this year so every school has access to the right number of teachers and securing places for all probationers who want them.

“Our investment has enabled councils to maintain the pupil-teacher ratio and halted a period of steady decline in teacher recruitment, resulting in 253 more teachers last year– the first substantial increase since 2007.”