The decision to go ahead with an increase in class sizes at several Moray primary schools has been slammed as “ill-conceived and short sighted” by opposition councillors.
Following Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council the maximum class sizes at six primary schools will go up from 25 to 30 in a move that the Council’s administration group insist was absolutely essential in helping ease pressure caused by a shortage of teaching staff in the region.
The six schools affected are Bishopmill, East End, Greewards, New Elgin, West End and Cluny Primary.
However, at the end of passionate debate it was agreed that an additional £100,000 would be allocated that will allow the employment of additional classroom assistants to help mitigate the impact of the larger class sizes.
The council’s acting head of schools and curriculum development, Vivienne Cross, said there were concerns about capacity in schools in Elgin as well as teacher shortages across Moray as a whole.
She told councillors: “Increasing class sizes in P2 and P3 will greatly alleviate some of the pressures in relation to certain schools and would allow more parents to send their children to their zoned school within Elgin.”
Councillor Anne Skene, chair of the children and young people’s services committee, put forward the proposal to allocate up to £100,000 for classroom assistants.
However, the SNP opposition group backed an amendment by Councillor Mike Shand that the decision should be put on hold until a detailed report be placed before a special meeting of the council on the effect the increase in class sizes would have on the schools concerned.
Following a vote that saw Councillor Skene’s motion carried by 15 votes to 10, Councillor Shand hit out at the move, saying: “The decision to increase class sizes for some schools in Moray is a backwards step.
“It is ill-conceived and short-sighted. I believe it devalues even further the role of teachers in Moray and will make our challenge of teacher recruitment to the region even harder. There is a serious risk that this short-termism will, in fact, exacerbate the problem rather than providing any kind of solution.
“The Council should be putting a major effort into making teaching in Moray an attractive proposition and pro-actively targeting qualified teachers in areas of Scotland where there is not a shortage rather than undermining the role and making that recruitment even harder.
“It is telling that the reduction in Classroom Assistants, which the SNP opposed, is now coming back to bite them and they are putting £100k back into those posts. It is also long overdue now that they reinstate Principal Teacher posts – the removal of which we strongly warned would be detrimental and that has proven to be the case.”
After voting with the ruling administration on the issue, Councillor Douglas Ross said that the decision was a “bitter pill to swallow”, adding: “Everyone accepts that smaller class sizes are better while some studies suggest that the size of the class does not have a huge bearing on attainment – but I contend it does have an impact, it also affects the teacher and their engagement with pupils.
“However parents and staff have accepted that something needs to be done otherwise placing requests coming in later this month could have seen siblings being forced to go to different schools and they is clearly in no-one’s best interest.
“I reluctantly agreed with this proposal as there were no other alternatives, waiting another ten days for a separate report as the SNP proposed seemed pointless as we wouldn’t have found a solution and the placing process would have been put in jeopardy and led to a lot of uncertainty for children and their families.
“The additional teaching assistants will hopefully mitigate some of the problems increasing class sizes could have and I hope the council are true to their word that this is an interim measure and in the future we can revert back to smaller class sizes for the benefit of pupils and staff alike.”
The SNP councillor for Elgin City North, Kirsty Reid, said that the decision was based on outdated research: “I have spoken to parents and teachers who are extremely concerned about the impact this will have on the attainment of their children and on the morale of staff.
“Where is the incentive to work at a school where class sizes have just increased? This is the wrong decision.
“Today’s report and recommendations were based on outdated research and failed to address many of the risks that the Council’s education department will face as a result of this bad decision.”
During the debate former teacher Councillor George Alexander made a passionate speech for unity, telling Councillors that the increase in class sizes was an essential and temporary step that would allow children to be placed in their zoned schools and provide time for Moray to resolve the issues around teacher shortages.