Councillors will be asked this week to consider a report on increasing class sizes in Moray’s primary schools that could lead to them losing hundreds of thousands in Scottish government funding.
A report ordered by the Children and Young People’s Services committee is to go before a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday. That discusses concerns over capacity in Elgin primary schools along with the issue of teacher shortages in Moray as a whole.
It is expected that problems facing Moray, which are further exasperated by the inability of the local authority to recruit suitably qualified teaching staff, will present “significant capacity issues” and so become a major concern for Elgin primary schools from the start of the 2015-2016 academic year.
In the report prepared by the acting head of schools and curriculum development, Vivienne Cross, Councillors are being told: “There are currently concerns regarding capacity in the Elgin ASG as well as teacher shortages across Moray as a whole.”
Current policy dictates that P2 and P3 class sizes in Moray should not exceed 25 pupils. However, while Moray maintains that at P1 to P3, the maximum increases to 33 pupils in P4 to P7 classrooms.
The report says: “Increasing class sizes for 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.”
Any agreement to increase class sizes could put the Council on a collision course with the Scottish Government, making it more difficult for Moray to meet the terms of a recent deal with Holyrood over maintenance of teacher numbers.
If Moray cannot maintain the pupil/teacher ratio at below 12.5 (it is currently 12.56) then the local authority could face having to hand back £730,000 – its share of the £41million additional funding made available by Holyrood to help ease the teacher shortage crisis.
That is a scenario acknowledged by Moray Council’s Convener, Allan Wright, who told the P&J: “Our top priority has to be trying to get these teacher positions filled. If we can recruit during the year between now and September when the audit is done then we can perhaps get [the pupil/teacher ratio] back down.”
Meanwhile the secretary of the Moray branch of the Educational Institute for Scotland, Susan Slater, said that it was “very disappointing” that Moray was in a situation of having to consider increasing class sizes.
She added: “We fully understand the urgency to fill vacancies that cannot be filled at the moment, but at the end of the day we cannot have an attainment, an achievement agenda, without maintaining the ratio of pupils to teachers.”