Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

'Slow progress' on class pledge

The Scottish Government insisted that progress was being made on the pledge

The Scottish Government has a long way to go to achieve its policy of cutting P1 to P3 classes to a maximum of 18 pupils, figures have suggested.

In the last year, the number of pupils in classes of that size increased by 1% to 13%.

The Tories said it would take 87 years for the target to be achieved at that rate of growth.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop said she would work with local authorities to ensure progress was made.

The annual Pupils in Scotland report showed the percentage of P1 to P3 pupils who were in classes of 18 or fewer rose from 12.3% in 2007 to 13.2% in 2008.

If classes with two teachers were also counted, the increase was from 15.3% to 15.6%.

At this rate it will take 87 years for the class size pledge to be met, in or around 2095
Murdo Fraser MSP

The figures also showed that the average class size in primary schools last year was 23.2 pupils, a marginal decrease from 23.3 in 2007.

P1 classes had the smallest average size of 21.1 pupils, unchanged from 2007.

The SNP had made cutting class sizes to a maximum of 18 in the first three years of primary school a flagship manifesto pledge before its victory in the 2007 Holyrood elections.

Murdo Fraser MSP, Scottish Tory spokesman for education, said the figures were a "huge embarrassment" for Ms Hyslop and First Minister Alex Salmond.

He added: "At this rate it will take 87 years for the class size pledge to be met, in or around 2095.

"By that time, most of the pupils that the SNP said this policy would originally benefit will be looking forward to a telegram from Buckingham Palace. Their children's children might not even benefit.

"Even Alex Salmond has not yet found the secret of eternal life, but unless he is planning to stay in post for the next eight-and-a-half decades, this is conclusive proof that the SNP's flagship class size pledge was nothing more than a cynical exercise in courting votes."

'Substantial progress'

But Ms Hyslop insisted progress was being made towards reaching the target.

She said: "Today's figures - which relate to September 2008 - show that 18 out of 32 local authorities are making progress on reducing class sizes and, overall, since 2006, there has been a 2% rise in the number of P1 to P3 pupils who are in class sizes of 18 or less.

"While this takes the figure to the highest it has been, we clearly need to make more substantial progress.

"However, I am pleased that we have seen a reduction of the number of P1 to P3 pupils in classes of over 25 from 38% in 2006 to 23% in 2008. This shows many more early years pupils are in smaller classes.

"We will need to work closely with local government partners through these tough economic times to ensure progress continues to be made."

But the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland warned last year that it would cost 622m to cut class sizes to 18, given that an additional 2,173 teaching staff and an extra 900 classrooms would be required.

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