Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Call for class size 'flexibility'

Education officals said class sizes were not a good measure of success

Leading figures in Scottish education have called for changes to the Scottish government's policy of 18 to a class in early primary.

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) wants schools to aim for an "average" teacher-to-pupil ratio of 18.

ADES, whose members oversee the schools system in each council area, said the move would allow more "flexibility".

The Scottish government said the matter was open for discussion.

Reducing the number of pupils to a maximum of 18 in the first three years of primary school was an SNP manifesto promise before it formed the Scottish government at the 2007 Holyrood election but it has struggled to meet its class size pledge.

Pose problems

Education Secretary Mike Russell told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that it was important for the government to be "flexible" in order to ensure children received the best education possible.

He said: "The SNP government has, since it came into office, defined it as 18 or below - I think that is the right definition.

"But I want to make sure that in every school young people are getting the best education.

"I am not going to be inflexible in making sure that the quality of that relationship is good, so of course there will be flexibility and discussion."

Mr Russell has previously acknowledged the challenges facing local councils in cutting class sizes.

He has said that because of the recession, councils could aim to ensure 20% rather than 100% of children in early primary were in classes of no more than 18.

Councils are considering the proposal but even reaching the scaled down target may pose problems.

Over the past two years the number of classes capped at 18 pupils has risen by just over 1% to 13%.

John Stodter, the general secretary of ADES, said class size targets were not a good measure of success in primary schools because children often worked in small groups for learning numbers and language but then joined bigger groups for wider discussions.

john stodter
The question should not be 'how many children are there?'. It should be 'what support does my youngster get?'
John Stodter

He said they would also be in smaller groups for specialist lessons such as art and music.

"The arrangements are very flexible," he said.

"The important thing is that there is a rich variety of experiences for youngsters and there is a whole number of teachers and other staff that actually provide that."

He added: "Children do not just sit in a class of 18 and it is important that head teachers have flexibility in deploying all the resources they have to meet the needs of children.

"The question should not be 'how many children are there?'. It should be 'what support does my youngster get?'."

Mr Stodter said smaller class sizes were good but it was a very expensive way of trying to improve education because it had implications for the number of people employed and the space available in schools.

He called for schools to be judged on the quality of education and not class sizes.

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