Schools (Class Sizes)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2003.

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Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

In response to the national debate on education, we indicated that we would bring forward proposals to reduce class sizes and to improve pupil-teacher ratios at critical stages such as primary 7, secondary 1 and secondary 2, particularly in maths and English.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

How? How much will it cost? Where will the Executive get the money from?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

When this Administration comes back in May, we will introduce fully costed proposals. Those proposals will stand up to scrutiny, unlike the SNP's proposals, which crumbled at the first hard question.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does the minister acknowledge that the size of classes is not the sole factor in determining educational achievement in our schools? In my constituency, the schools with the biggest classes are often those that are highest achieving. Given the minister's commitment to addressing the central issue of inequality in education, will she support initiatives such as the nurture initiative in my constituency, which allows for intensive and close support for some of our most vulnerable children whose broader social needs have to be addressed so that they can access education?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I take on board the point that Johann Lamont has raised. Of course class sizes are important, but we also need to ensure that resources and support are provided so that we can close the opportunity gap. Many schools have used their resources creatively and have worked hard to overcome the barriers that exist for disadvantaged pupils. I always welcome examples of good practice and like to see it spreading throughout Scotland.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Three months ago, I asked the minister how much she estimated it would cost to lower class sizes to a maximum of 20 in the primary and secondary sectors. Three months ago, she said that she was working on it. Does she know yet how much that would cost?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I refer the member to the answer that I gave to Mr Russell. We will not make proposals that are not properly costed. We will make proposals that stand up to scrutiny and we will deliver in the same way as we have delivered on reducing class sizes for the first three years of primary education.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

If I may say so, Presiding Officer, you are wearing a rather fetching purple tie—rather like Hibernian Football Club's second colours.

Further to Tommy Sheridan's question, is the minister aware that, when class sizes were reduced to 20 in California, the results included many classrooms with 40 or more children and two teachers, patchy attainment and the hiring of teachers without proper qualifications to meet the demand for additional teachers? Is that what the minister wants? Does she agree that what matters most is teaching quality in Scotland?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Teaching quality is very important and I am aware of the research to which Mr Monteith refers. It showed that, in some areas, there were advantages in reducing class sizes, particularly for the kind of pupils that Johann Lamont referred to. However, it also highlighted some of the dangers. We have to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of doing the wrong thing in an attempt to raise standards. That is why we will make proposals for those critical stages where we know that there are problems. We will focus on maths and English because we are committed to raising standards of literacy and numeracy. I am sure that Mr Monteith in his very fetching tie will agree with that.