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Is 20 plenty? Moray Council debate on school behaviour centres around class size

By Jonathan Clark

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REDUCING the maximum number of pupils in school classes to 20 was the focus of a heated, two-hour debate between Moray councillors.

A report written by Moray Council's chief education officer Vivienne Cross highlighted behaviour-related issues that local schools have battled, particularly since the coronavirus pandemic.

The report mentions substance misuse, vandalism, verbal abuse and the ever-growing problem of pupils leaving classrooms to wander around school buildings.

Ms Cross stressed that the issue was being caused by a "very small minority" of pupils, but admitted there was "not one easy answer or fix".

Chief education officer Vivienne Cross.
Chief education officer Vivienne Cross.

The debate quickly turned to the number of pupils in a classroom and limiting this number to 20.

Councillor Derek Ross (Speyside Glenlivet, Independent) put forward a recommendation to contact Jennifer Gilruth, the cabinet secretary for education to suggest this is done.

However, his motion, which was seconded by Marc Macrae (Fochabers Lhanbryde, Conservative), was rejected by nine votes to three.

Cllr Ross, a former teacher, said: "We are trying to defend our school staff. We are trying to make things better.

"If we reduce class sizes we will have more engagement from young people within the classroom.

Councillor Derek Ross (Speyside Glenlivet). Picture: Becky Saunderson
Councillor Derek Ross (Speyside Glenlivet). Picture: Becky Saunderson

"Anyone who has been in schools knows the difference when you have a smaller class size. All we are trying to do is support our staff.

"That is what they have asked for – a reduction in class sizes to 20. That has been the agreed approach of trade unions and political parties in Scotland.

"I don't think you will find a teacher in Scotland who will argue against this... but yet we have people in this chamber arguing against it."

Cllr Lawrence (Forres, SNP) voted against the motion, but said he was not arguing against class size being important.

"I'm not arguing that there isn't a relationship between class size and anti-social behaviour," he said.

"It's about making sure the recommendation isn't interfering with Scottish Government decisions about spending."

Vivienne Cross admitted there are problems in Moray schools with pupils turning up to school but not attending classes, or walking out early.

However, she said that these issues were largely outwith the control of teachers – who are "not police officers".

There are also "significant concerns" about Buckie High School and Elgin High School, where emergency meetings were triggered by "serious incidents".

Buckie High School.
Buckie High School.

The number of children being excluded from Moray secondary schools is currently two-and-a-half times the national average, with 42 exclusions per 1000 pupils.

"Our schools should be safe, but sometimes they don't feel very safe for pupils or staff," she said. "We have to remember that staff are not police officers.

"They don't have the same rights and responsibilities – if a young person removes themselves from a class there is very little staff can do apart from coaching them back in.

"I have got to ensure staff are safe so I am not condoning them trying to keep pupils in the class at all costs. If a young person wants to leave or is being aggressive then we would not try to stop them."

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