The Scottish government are being slated for not meeting their manifesto commitment of reducing pupil numbers in primary one, two and three to 18.
Aside from their ambitious manifesto promises, (which few parties achieve), how important is this?
Here I go again. In the 50s I attended a local primary school where I'm told that the class size was 39. (That's from someone who is still a friend today and we were in that first class. Her father was the janitor so she was able to access these statistics as an adult). It was a standard primary school. Because I won a scholarship to the local Academy primary and my parents accepted it, (the first boy and girl of every primary were offered one in Dundee in those days), I lost knowledge of Dens Road Primary school but of course my friends were still the same because most of us lived within 300 yards of it.
The friend who gave me the information about class numbers went on to be a well respected teacher who has always said that, within reason, class sizes don't matter. She says, "As a teacher we consciously divide classes into five. Those who will achieve regardless, those who will achieve with a little study, those who will achieve with persuasion, those who will achieve with a wee bit of extra help both academically and spiritually ( 'boosting of egos') and those who really aren't too interested in school but want to get away and do something."
Numbers have little to do with it. The curriculum schools have to follow today is vast and in particular the Curriculum of Excellence that Scottish schools are now obliged to follow is beyond my comprehension. The amount of inane nonsense it contains would test the best of us, far less teachers. Yet the teachers of today allow their Union to dictate their class syllabus and thus their abilities.
A good teacher can teach 35 to read, write and do arithmetic as was proved in the 50s. Today we have 20% of children identified as SEN because they have difficulties. Reducing the sizes of classes may make it easier for teachers but is that the answer? As today's Ofsted report said, improving the quality of teaching may go a long way to resolving today's problems. If you have a class of 18 - as the Scottish government said could be attained - with a poor teacher, they won't achieve more than a class of 30 with a good teacher. That's common sense.
Some of us just aren't designed for teaching yet go through the teaching further education process and come out the other end qualified. Colleges and universities have to start being honest with those they see as not having the potential to teach our children well.
To have primaries 1, 2 and 3 with classes of 18 was a pipe dream, but it doesn't mean to say the education of our infants will suffer. With good teachers, who are given the authority to instill discipline, they will do well in classes of 25 or more. Whether we like it or not, some teachers are incompetent yet they're never sacked. Time that matter was addressed rather than pupil numbers.