Posted by alangdundee on 2nd October 2009
by Richie Venton – Glasgow Save Our Schools Campaign organiser
Several developments on the provision of schools and education in recent weeks have exposed the rotten stench of New Labour’s hypocrisy, the backsliding of the SNP in the face of the recession, and the truth of the predictions and policies of the Glasgow Save Our Schools Campaign, consistently championed during our mass struggle against school closures since January.
At the heart of the matter is the key issue of class sizes.
In ferociously fighting 25 primary and nursery closures by the Labour-run Glasgow City Council, we countered their excuses about falling school rolls dictating closures by demanding cuts to classes of 20 maximum, for all age groups – as a means of protecting and creating teachers’ jobs, improving the attention given to individual children and therefore the quality of their education.
We coined the slogan
Twenty’s Plenty in any class, popularising the policy of the teachers’ union, EIS, and the Scottish Socialist Party.
We welcomed the pledge of the incoming SNP government to reduce classes to 18 in Primary1-3, as a radical step in the right direction. In the SOS Campaign’s official meeting with SNP Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop in June, I argued the case that her government’s reliance on the ‘Concordat’ between Holyrood and local authorities – whereby they appealed to councils to retain teaching staff levels whilst school rolls fell as a means of implementing P1-3 classes of 18 – was being ripped to shreds, incapable of achieving its own goals, and that surely the government should pass legislation to enforce smaller classes. That point was repeated in writing to her. No reply was forthcoming, oral or written.
However, the pressure of our campaign has played some part in two important recent steps in the parliament. The Public Petitions Committee recently agreed to seek the written responses of the government and several councils to the issues raised in our petition to the parliament, in which we demanded a public inquiry into the effect of school closures on class sizes, educational standards, jobs and other social impacts.
And now, under the pressure of parents and campaigners in revolt against school closures, plus legal cases enforcing larger class sizes in popular schools through placement requests, Fiona Hyslop has announced plans to legislate to enforce maximum classes of 25 in P1.
New Labour has unleashed the dogs of war against Hyslop, barking out accusations of betrayal, of desertion of the pledge of 18 maximum for a cap of 25.
Labour gives hypocrisy a bad name
Such accusations from New Labour stink to the high heavens. They give hypocrisy a bad name! This is the same New Labour who openly, publicly denounced smaller class sizes as
unworkable in Glasgow – and whose Labour Lord Provost accused me of
a middle class agenda(!?) for promoting classes of 20 maximum at public consultation meetings, telling me with a perfectly straight face that
smaller classes don’t work for working class kids!
It’s the same New Labour whose Glasgow city council arrogantly dismissed our repeated arguments that the school population was set to rise again, with a 4 per cent growth in live births in recent years, and our dire warnings that their closures would lead to bigger classes and worse education – as well as job losses.
Well who was right and who was wrong? Average classes of 21 in the schools closed have leapt up to classes of 25 and more in the schools the kids have been shunted into this term. Only one in seven qualified teachers have got a full-time teaching job. Over 200 Glasgow teachers only heard which school they were working in the day before term started! And in an incredible, but shameless admission last week, Glasgow city council leaders conceded that actually
there are more children in Glasgow than we had been expecting. In an ominous threat of further cuts and closures, they whined that this meant £2m less in
savings through closures than projected.
So criticism of the SNP government from New Labour holds absolutely no water; and Labour pointedly says not a word about what they would do about cutting class sizes!
However, severe criticism of the SNP is richly deserved. They are backsliding on their election promises, whilst trying to disguise their cowardly retreat with headlines, smoke and mirrors. Alongside this miserably small step on reducing class sizes, they are slashing the intake to teacher training, as a perverse solution to the lack of permanent jobs for newly qualified teachers.
Of course any parent or teacher will welcome the legal limitation of P1 classes to 25 next year, in place of the current legal limit of 30, introduced in 1999. Of course if that was extended to P2 and P3 in later years it would be a painfully slow, gradual step in the right direction. And those of us who have fought a high profile battle for smaller class sizes, demanding legal measures to enforce them, as opposed to relying on the (non-existent) goodwill of councils, can celebrate making some impact on government policies.
But a ceiling of 25 for P1 is pathetic compared to the SNP manifesto pledges, and would only have a paltry impact in real life. Just 6 per cent of kids in Scotland in P1 are in classes above 25! So for 94 per cent of them, this has no effect – apart from the welcome protection against future increases as Labour, Lib Dem, Tory and SNP councils pass on cuts.
And why restrict it to the first year of school? At present, P4-7 and the first two years of secondary school are only restricted to a maximum of 33, with a limit of 30 for the final four years at secondary.
And as any teacher at primary or secondary schools will testify, even a cap of 25 would still present them with the task of crowd control in many classes, rather than being able to devote time to the individual needs of kids’ learning.
The demand for no more than 20 in any class, right throughout school years, is justified, proven to be right by numerous academic studies, would transform kids’ learning experience and secure jobs for new generations of teachers, reducing the stress of the job in the process.
The Scottish Socialist Party will persist with this demand, alongside other parents and teachers, whereas the mainstream parties put cash before kids, whether in periods of recession and/or rampant profiteering for the few.