Class Sizes

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Education and Lifelong Learning – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 21st June 2007.

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Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 2:15 pm, 21st June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will fulfil the manifesto commitment to reduce all primary 1, 2 and 3 class sizes to 18 pupils. (S3O-296)

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I thank the cabinet secretary for her in-depth answer.

Will the cabinet secretary assure us that the additional teachers, classroom assistants and classrooms needed to accommodate the changes will be in place and that her department will be able to pay for them?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Yesterday's announcement made it quite clear that, within weeks of coming to power, our injection of 550 new teachers into the system is an early step towards ensuring that we deliver. Obviously, we need to spend capital as well, which is why we have released an additional £40 million into the school fund. Considerable progress will have to be made year on year if we are to deliver, which is why elements of the budget following the comprehensive spending review will indicate how far and fast we can deliver. We are absolutely determined to ensure that our young people in primary 1, 2 and 3 benefit from receiving their teaching in classes of 18.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Does the cabinet secretary have any idea how many extra teachers and classrooms will be required, assuming that the SNP manifesto commitment is realised?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

We will have to engage proactively with councils on classrooms, because local authorities—not the Executive—are the owners, employers and providers of the schools that can deliver. We have already started the process to deliver on the classroom agenda.

As far as resources are concerned, we are undertaking a modelling exercise that bears in mind falling school rolls and retirements. We envisage that far more than the 1,000 teachers pledged by Labour and the Liberal Democrats are needed and that the number could at least double if not treble. Our proposal of having 550 new teachers this autumn will go a good way towards delivering the numbers. However, it is a big commitment, which means that we have to act wisely and look at future budgets—not just in the week ahead but in the year ahead, following the comprehensive spending review.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

When will Fiona Hyslop deliver her manifesto commitment? Before she made her announcement to Parliament, she spoke on BBC radio yesterday about taking a commonsense approach and having flexibility. Until the election, she made great play of there being no flexibility on maths and English class sizes. Will she confirm that there will be no flexibility on having only 20 to a class for maths and English?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Perhaps Hugh Henry does not recall that, when he was Minister for Education and Young People and I was Opposition spokesperson, I commented that flexibility was needed when class sizes were reduced from 33 to 30 in the first session of the Scottish Parliament, and I recommended that flexibility would be needed to achieve class sizes of 20. Of course we need to take a commonsense, flexible approach. We will deliver on our commitment, but it is important that we engage with and listen to councils to make sure that we can deliver what they need and not take the top-down approach that was adopted by the previous Government.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Question 5 has been withdrawn.