Early Years Education: Deferred P1 entry and P2+P3 Class Sizes

Early years education is key to every child’s development. This page covers two aspects- in Edinburgh the deferred entry scheme is moving in the wrong direction. Nationally, P2 and P3 class sizes are too big.

Deferred P1 Entry

On the 9th of March the Guardian published the article Children are sent to school too young in the UK by Deborah Orr. It’s about the english educational paper of spring 2013 and it seems to say the opposite of Keir Bloomer’s one that came out at the same time (“By Diverse Means“). It’s called “The Tail: How England’s Schools Fail One Child in Five” and it’s edited by Paul Marshall, chairman of ARK Schools, which runs a group of academies.

It notes almost 20% of schoolchildren in the UK are registered as having special educational needs, five times higher than the EU average, then sets about trying to claim its the clasification, not the condition, that is the reason.

The columnist Deborah Orr neatly shreds the guy’s arguments, but in doing so makes a good point- that in England they start kids off too young. At 4. In Scotland we have more flexibility. In Edinburgh we had even more- the Council facilitated parents to hold their children back from starting school until they were 6. Not any more.

Recently the Council started discouraging the flexibility that allowed parents in Edinburgh to defer entry for their children into P1. See reports to Education Committee of 11th December 2012  and 15 November 2011. These papers point to North American research claiming that sending kids to school later is bad for their education. But results from most european schools, where kids start at 6 or 7 say the opposite. Finland, which has the best educational outcomes in the EU, doesn’t make kids go to school until they are 7.

Starting a kid at school too early, especially for boys, can lead to more SEN, it is beginning to be acknowledged.

What it tragic is that yet again we can lay this problem at senior management in Children & Familis ‘s door. They told the Education Committee they had to stop parents deferring entry of the kids into P1 because it was costing too much. Sadly, Committee concurred and now it is Council policy to discourage deferred entry.

See Evening News of 7th Dec 2012, 18 Dec 2011, and letter from schoolteacher of 1st Sept 2011.

P2 and P3 Class Sizes

What do we want? A maximum class size of 25 pupils at P2 and P3. Since the law presently limits P1 class sizes to 25, this will help stop the re-organisation and compositing of classes throughout the infant years that seems to be becoming the norm, that starts for many kids as soon as they leave P1.

This page covers:   How Edinburgh shapes up to other Scottish Authorities…. Legislation on P1- P3 Sizes … Other Reasons to support smaller class sizes … Class Sizes in Disadvantaged Schools …Class Sizes resulting from Legal Challenges … The Future

How Edinburgh shapes up to other Scottish Authorities

An FOI request of Sept 2010 has revealed that at least 38 of Edinburgh’s 87 primary schools had a P1 class of over 25 and 20 schools had P1 classes of 30 (two schools had still not filed their returns).

At least 2,037 five-year olds in Edinburgh were therefore stuck in classes greater than the guidelines for their infant years because they just missed out on recent Scottish Government legislation setting a maximum P1 class size of 25. (over 55% of those who started at school that year.)

Parents from these schools were complaining that their kids have been left out of the new legislation. Netmums carried out a survey of 200 parents in August 2010 whose children were in large P1 and P2 classes. The Netmums survey showed that many feel their children weren’t getting the attention they deserved to help them perform to the best of their ability. 94% said they wanted a cap of 25 pupils on P1 and P2 classes. Some said they were in classes with more than 30 pupils.

In March 2010, Cllr MacLaren and the Children & Families Committee voted to increase Edinburgh’s P1 limit from 25 to 30 ( Evening News 4 March 2010 ). This action was subsequently reversed by the new legislation which didn’t come into effect until August 2011 – and that year’s P1 was in P2 by then. Many children missed out on the new sizes and are now now stuck in a class of 30 right through the early years of their education.

All Children & Families have achieved through this measure of increasing class sizes just to have to reduce them again was a saving of £324,000 for the year and the avoidance of recruiting 81 teachers. This is around 0.8% of its annual budget. [Kids not Suits calculates 2,037 pupils would fill 81 classrooms. Assuming there is a room available to teach in, the cost of a class (including classroom assistant and teacher) is around £40,000 pa.]

According to the letter from the Head of Schools and Community Services to the Scottish Government of 28th May 2010, funding was made available to authorities to implement classes of 25 at P1 in session 2007/08.

An FOI request to Children & Families- see it at What Happened to the Funding for Smaller P1 Class Sizes, pointed out that the Council had voted to increase P1 class sizes to 30, and discovered that the extra P1 funding for 2010-11 first provided in 2008 had not been given back to the Gov (since it clearly had not been used for the stated purpose), but subsumed into general Children & Family running costs.

According to the same FOI request, 55 per cent of children who started school in 2010 Edinburgh city schools were in P1 class sizes larger then the recommended 25. This was covered by the Evening News on 22nd Oct 2010, Parents want P2 and P3 class sizes limited. The article points out that a total of 33 schools out of the city’s 87 had P1 classes with more than 25 pupils being taught by just one teacher, compared with just two primary schools the previous year. It explains that Kids not Suits are calling on the Government to extend the new laws that came into effect in 2011 to cap not just P1, but P2 and P3 class sizes as well, at 25.

In November 2010 the national picture became clear as figures for all scottish local authorities were released by the Government in the annual Pupil Census. The 2009 figures showed Edinburgh ranked 29th worst out of 32 authorities for large P1 classes (only just better than South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and Glasgow City Council) [5. According to the Scottish Government league tables on P1 class sizes from the last year for which data is available, the only Councils with more pupils in large classes than Edinburgh are South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and Glasgow City Council. This can be seen from the Scottish Government League Tables on early years class sizes for 08-09 below:

Local authority

Pupils in P1 class larger than 25

Aberdeen City- 0

Aberdeenshire- 0

Clackmannanshire- 0

East Ayrshire- 0

Eilean Siar- 0

Midlothian- 0

Orkney Islands- 0

East Lothian- 26

Highland- 26

Argyll & Bute- 28

West Dunbartonshire- 31

Dundee City- 34

Moray- 35

Perth & Kinross- 43

Shetland Islands- 57

Scottish Borders- 61

South Ayrshire- 79

Inverclyde- 81

Renfrewshire- 82

West Lothian- 88

North Ayrshire- 107

Falkirk- 112

East Dunbartonshire- 136

Dumfries & Galloway- 151

North Lanarkshire- 165

Stirling- 188

Fife- 192

Angus- 199

Edinburgh City- 334

South Lanarkshire- 369

East Renfrewshire- 935

Glasgow City- 966

(from the Scottish Government Pupils in Scotland Census 2009– see Table 6.7: Number of pupils by pupil stage and class size, 2009)].

The SPICe Briefing Note of 6th March 2010 notes that both City of Edinburgh Council and Renfrewshire Council have made little or no progress since 2004 in reducing class sizes.

The only other country in Europe with P2 and P3 classes as big as the UK – with 30 pupils- is Latvia. The Review of Class Size Control Mechanisms, published by the Government on 14th Sept 2010, illustrates this- and acknowledges the benefits of smaller class sizes.

In Sept 2009 the Education Minister said “across Scotland, class sizes in primary schools have fallen to an all-time low of 23.2” (Scottish Government News Release Sept 09 ).

The SPICe Briefing Note of 6th March 2010 to Parliament’s Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee stated in 2009 that 91% of scottish P1 pupils were in classes under 25, taught by a single teacher.

But in terms of money spent per pupil head, only 13 Councils spend more than Edinburgh per head of pupil population. So it spends more than many other authorities, yet is outperformed. Spending per pupil head across Scotland is as follows:
West Lothian £5,635

South Lanarkshire £5,694

Renfrewshire £5,901

Angus £5,974

East Lothian £6,022

East Renfrewshire £6,097

Inverclyde £6,145

South Ayrshire £6,155

Scottish Borders £6,173

North Lanarkshire £6,188

Stirling £6,190

East Dunbartonshire £6,225

Clackmannanshire £6,300

North Ayrshire £6,332

Dumfries & Galloway £6,373

East Ayrshire£6,420

Moray £6,462

Perth & Kinross £6,462

Edinburgh City £6,468

Falkirk £6,477

Fife £6,568

West Dunbartonshire £6,613

Aberdeenshire £6,667

Dundee City £6,719

Aberdeen City£6,939

Glasgow City£6,948

Highland £7,125

Midlothian £7,187

Argyll & Bute £8,384

Orkney Islands £9,014

Eilean Siar £11,064

Shetland Islands £11,096

Where is all the money going?

Legislation on P1 Sizes

The key points stated in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) Briefing of 3rd March 2010 and 16th April 2008 are:

• the Scottish Government aims to reduce class sizes to 18 pupils or less in P1-P3.

• The Concordat of April 2010, negotiated between the Scottish Government and COSLA, sets out the national policy aims of the government, which include the class size reduction policy…The Concordat states that, “local government is expected to make year on year progress” towards class size reductions. [The Concordat includes developing and delivering “A Curriculum for Excellence” from August 2010]

The Scottish Government then announced new legislation on the 14th Sept 2010 that would restrict the number of P1 pupils to 25 per class from August 2011. The Evening News covered the story in “Lessons learned as P1 size cap set to become law“. The paper from the Government group who produced the report can be found at Review of Class Size Control Mechanisms. [2. The new legislation can be found at the Office of Public Sector Information site for the web version and the Executive Note]

Other Reasons to support smaller class sizes

The argument for smaller class sizes is made in the 2002 study by the University of Glasgow/SCRE at Does Small Really Make a Difference? .It is also made in the 2001 Essex University study “Class Size in the Early Years- Is Smaller Really Better?”

The need for small class sizes for Curriculum for Excellence is acknowledged in the EIS bulletin of Jan 09 at Teachers and a Curriculum for Excellence

The Scottish Government want Councils to ” get it right for every child “. Whilst Edinburgh’s C&F has set up a unit to do it (Team Around the Child), how are they going to get very far when many a child spends the best part of its day struggling alongside 29 others to get heard? In January 2010 the Children and Families Service Plan 2009-12 ‘s key priority was “Improving support in early years so that problems are identified and addressed early”. Big classes can’t provide much individual support.

Thinking it through, we will all suffer the consequences of large class sizes at P1 (these large classes at P1 will stay that way for the next 7 years) , Firstly, children with short attention spans will be losing interest in school at an early age, because the teacher will be struggling to accommodate so many different pupils. You will see these same kids becoming quite disillusioned with school as they progress up to P7, with them then not managing the transition to secondary school, then dropping out at 14, then developing problems in later life, etc, etc. A violent crime costs £19,000, according to a Home Office study of 2000 (BBC Cost of Crime -news ). It is not any kind of an economy to scrimp on the early years of a child’s education.

Class Sizes in Disadvantaged Schools

The Scottish Government approached scottish local authorties in 2009 and told them that they could put other developments on the back burner if they chose to implement a class size of 18 in P1 to P3 in “Positive Action” schools, which are around 20% of scottish schools.

[The discussion around doing this can be followed at Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee Official Report 3 March 2010]

In Edinburgh, a Positive Action school is one where 40% or more pupils are eligible for free school meals. This equates to about 1/5 of Edinburgh’s Primary Schools- around 17 schools. C&F committed £801,000 in 2010-2011 additional resourcing to reduce class sizes in Primaries 1-3 in deprived areas. Indeed, almost £1.3m over the next two years was spent to implement class sizes of 18 in P1-P3 in deprived areas. This money was found from other parts of the Council (not other schools, C&F say).

Class Sizes resulting from Legal Challenges

In 2007, when the Scottish Executive set its guidelines of 25 max in P1, the Council followed suit and had a policy of 25, as well. Then, in 2009, parents trying to get parents into Sciennes Primary won their case in Court when the Sherriff ruled that the legislation still stated that 30 was the max. The Council then decided to change its policy in 2010 year so that it could put up to 30 in a P1 class. This was covered in the paper to Committee of 18th March Strategic Management of School Places: P1 and S1 intakes for August 2010

So now the Council is in the position where it has P1 classes of 18 in some schools and 25 in others.

The Evening News ran a story on this on 4th March 2010 (see Primary class sizes to rise as new law fails to materialise).

They ran another story on 15th October 2010 “Too Many Pupils in 40% P1s” which stated that in the 2010-11 academic year, 40 per cent of city schools were teaching primary one children in class sizes larger then the recommended 25.

On 15th October Cllr Maclaren said in the Eve News that: : “Our school placement team correctly predicted that without a legal backstop we would see a significant number of schools with P1 classes of more than 25 pupils. We continue to manage that situation as best we can but what we need is for the government to bring in legislation.” – but she was spinning a yarn. It was Cllr MacLaren herself that supervised the motion to her committee in March 2010 increasing Edinburgh’s guideline max from 25 to 30- so she was quite OK about the matter then..

This was followed by another article on 22nd Oct 010 arising from the answer to an FOI request, Parents want P2 and P3 class sizes limited, which pointed out that a total of 33 schools out of the city’s 87 have P1 classes with more than 25 pupils being taught by just one teacher, compared with just two primary schools in the previous year. It called on the Government to extend the new laws that capped P1 class sizes at 25 in 2011, so that it covered P2 and P3 class sizes too.

The Conservatives were going in the opposite direction. They opposed limiting the P1 class size to 25, saying it will restrict parental choice when it comes to schools and make classes above P3 larger. There are two points here: larger P4 classes are not so much of a problem- research shows that it is in the early years that we need small class sizes. And if parent’s cannot get into the school of their choice then they need to work to get the one they do get into better. They can fundraise through the PTA for more school resources, get on the Parent Council, volunteer at the school- in short, all the things that parents at good schools work hard at- to make their schools good. Whatever happened to their Big Society aspirations?

As the Government spokeswoman put it: “Small class sizes give pupils more one-on-one time with their teacher. Our proposals will legally limit primary one classes to 25 and it will be a mystery to parents and teachers why anyone would oppose this simple, common sense measure to improve our children’s education.” (see Scotsman article Tories fight move to cut primary school class size down to 25)

The Future

The early years population is currently rising, with births potentially peaking in 2008/9. With regard to primary school age children, there is a 20% increase predicted in the number of 5-11 year olds by 2020, followed thereafter by a gradual drop in numbers (see Children and Families Asset Management Plan- report to Committee 15 June 2010. )

The legislation from the Scottish Government setting a maximum P1 class size of 25 came into force in 2011, (see above). The Teachers’ Union NASUWT said that even with 25, the “New Scottish class sizes don’t go far enough” and noted that by not delivering that in August 2010, the Curriculum for Excellence would suffer (“Delivery of education must not be compromised“).

In any event, from August 2011 the C&F Dept had to employ extra teaching staff -but had less money. Alternatively, it could have re-directed existing back-room staff and management into teaching roles in schools. Many Council staff have teaching qualifications; transferring just 30 would have made a huge difference.

The ruling administration at Edinburgh is now a Labour/ SNP coalition. The SNP manifesto for the Scottish Government stated that reducing class sizes to 18 at P1 was “to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development”.

The good news is that now the maximum P1 class size of 25 has been agreed, the bad is that it doesn’t extend to P and P3 as well. So the kids who started school in 2010 missed out. Kids not Suits will keep on campaigning, to get a maximum of 25 for P2 and P3 as well – that is, all the early year’s classes that the Government originally wanted to set limits for. The Edinburgh Reporter covers this in their issue of 20th September . Councils can do it at no cost if they move back-office staff that can teach into the front line.

The Review of Class Size Control Mechanisms, published by the Government on 14th Sept 2010, did not even mention P2 or P3- it only considered P1. However, it acknowledges the benefits of smaller class sizes and gave an account of class sizes in countries across Europe. The only other country with P2 and P3 classes as big as the UK – with 30 pupils- is Latvia [3. Maximum P1-P3 class sizes in European Countries:

Country P1 P2 P3

Austria 25 25 25

Bulgaria 22 22 22

Cyprus 25 25 25

Finland 15 15 15

Germany 24 24 24

Greece 25 25 25

Hungary 26 26 26

Iceland 24 24 24

Italy 27 27 27

Latvia 30 30 30

Poland 26 26 26

Portugal 24 24 24

Slovenia 28 28 28

Spain 25 25 25

England & Wales 30 30 30

Northern Ireland 30 30 30

Scotland 25 30 30

(from Review of Class Size Control Mechanisms)]

However, the earlier consultation did show support for limiting class sizes at P2 and P3 as well. To see the responses click here. An analysis of these results showed 24 in favour and 10 against. (Those in favour were clear that in early years children needed the most attention in order to learn basic skills in reading and writing and in small classes the teacher could focus on individuals. Some were against because in the current financial climate it was not affordable; others thought children’s progress depended more on the quality of teaching and school leadership). The teaching unions support smaller P2 and P3 classes.

What the Teaching Unions think:

The leading education union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) supported the introduction of a maximum of 25 for P2 and P3 classes in their consultation response. They also believe that the extension to a statutory maximum of 25 for pupils in P2 and P3 classes should begin as of August 2011. (ATL Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation document, 11 June 2010, page 4).

Other teaching unions feel the same way. Commenting on the Scottish Government’s plan to cap primary one class sizes at 25, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the fastest growing teachers’ union in Scotland, said in their press release: “Any attempts to reduce class sizes are a welcome development but these plans don’t go far enough to make a real difference in the classroom for teachers or pupils. Furthermore, there needs to be a reduction in class sizes across the board in all stages of Scottish education, not just primary one, to properly succeed.”

Assistant Secretary Drew Morrice of the EIS said in a BBC bulletin : “provision must be extended to primary two and primary three as soon as practicable.”]

Netmums carried out a survey in August of 2010 of parents whose children were in large P1 and P2 classes. The Netmums survey showed that many feel their children weren’t getting the attention they deserved to help them perform to the best of their ability. 94% said they wanted a cap of 25 pupils on P1 and P2 classes.

Kids not Suits has written to Mike Russell- his reply said a legal requirement to have classes of 25 at P1 and P2 would have significant budgetary and/or accommodation implications for local authorities at a time of great economic pressure, so Ministers took the view that 2011 was not the best time to take this forward.

However, Kids not Suits thinks there are ways. We have been pointing out to Labour’s Des McNulty and the other education spokespeople that if we are going to avoid cuts to the front line there may be some merit in doing what Alastair McNish suggests and merging local education authorities- back into the Regional structure we had back in 1996. Such an act would save a huge amount of cash. There could be improvements to class sizes by transferring some of those back office staff – who might lose their jobs through reprganisation, but who are qualified teachers – back into the front line. Whilst Kids not Suits do not think that the public sector should be made to pay for the excesses of the banks, on a pragmatic level there will only be so much cash for back office functions in the future. Our point is that even though the Scots are facing cuts from Westminster, we should not give up on our aspirations to improve the situation in our early years classrooms. For more info on the matter, see this Kids not Suits page Merge LEAs?

If you want to help convince the political parties that they should include smaller P2 and P3 class sizes in their manifestos, go to the Kids not Suits “Get Involved” page.

Also, please use any influence you have with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council to try and get them on board. Details at www.sptc.info



Date page last updated: 20th February 2013



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