THE news three months ago that deaths outnumbered births in Scotland last year barely registered at the time. Too abstract.

Now, trouble at my daughter’s primary school in Edinburgh is bringing home the scale of the challenges we all face as Scotland’s population decline gets under way.
With fewer young children in the catchment, and unable to afford smaller class sizes, our local school is resorting to forming "composite" classes. For anyone unfamiliar with the jargon, this simply means mashing two separate age cohorts – each with their own needs – into a single class. Picture a dozen new P1s, nervously awaiting their first taste of school life, seated alongside a group of boisterous P2s, impatient to pick up where they left off.
The challenges this throws up are no doubt shared by many other families across the country, not least in less populous rural areas. But we’re talking a popular school in Scotland’s supposedly-vibrant capital city. What’s is going on?
It doesn’t help that school budgets are being squeezed. Not least by the SNP-Green commitment to hike teacher pay 15% while offering councils a measly £320 million towards footing the bill. But the heart of the issue lies in our poor demographics.
Births in Scotland are plummeting. Having fallen for seven out of the last eight years (Covid being the sole anomaly), births in 2022 were 22% below 2008 levels. The first quarter of 2023 brought 5% fewer births than the same period last year.
Scotland’s child population has already dwindled to only 1.1m, down almost 400,000 since the millennium. Just 53,000 children will start school this August, a worrying 10% fewer than five years ago.
If “demography is destiny” then we’re in it deep. The least we can do to prepare our children for the challenges that await is to properly support our education system.
Philip Bartlett, Edinburgh.

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Teachers need action, not talk
THE continuing level of violence in Scotland's schools is shocking and it represents the tip of an iceberg of rude, uncooperative and disruptive behaviour in classrooms. Teachers have been experiencing and complaining about this for some years, and increasingly so since Covid, which has caused a sharp deterioration in behaviour. The response of the SNP Government is to set up yet another working group.
Since 2020, at least 12 reports on education, on everything from additional support needs to equity in schools to regional improvement collaboratives, have been published in Scotland. Has anyone spotted any action on any of these? Another working group, composed of the usual suspects from the educational establishment who have presided over and enabled this situation, will achieve little.
In England the Government commissioned a survey to gauge the extent of the problem. The survey found that in one week in June, 90% of school leaders said that behaviour was either very good or good, only 64% of teachers said the same and a mere 47% of pupils agreed. The further from the classroom, the further from the impact of disruptive behaviour, the less likely it is that the problem is recognised or acknowledged. Make no mistake, it is the well-behaved, hard-working majority of pupils who are suffering the most. They bear the brunt of the poor behaviour on a day-to-day basis, and in the longer term, with the negative impact on their education.
We do not need another working group, another lengthy consultation exercise, a draft report, a final report and then the usual deathly silence. Teachers and head teachers have the skills to manage their classrooms and schools. What they now lack is the authority to do so. Schools need full backing from local authorities and government to set the boundaries and sanctions, including suspension from school as a final resort. Sanctions need not be draconian, merely consistent and enforced. But if there is no final sanction, namely suspension from school, all others are useless. No need to hand in the exercise or complete the detention, because nothing happens if you don't. The suppression of short suspensions by politicians has been the single largest contributor to the problem. If there is no final red line, then there is no line at all.
Teachers and pupils deserve much better than an unruly, chaotic classroom in which crowd control rather than education becomes the primary focus. Jenny Gilruth knows this. Kicking the can down the road of another working group is a dereliction of her duty as Education Minister, and a betrayal of her former colleagues and pupils.
Carole Ford, Former headteacher of Kilmarnock Academy, Glasgow.

Harry has used the media himself
I BELIEVE that much of the media has gone over the top with regard to reporting on the litigation pursued by Prince Harry in England ("Press ‘has misled me for my whole life', Prince Harry tells High Court", The Herald, June 8). He is attempting to establish that Mirror Group Newspapers used illegal means to secure information on his activities and whereabouts.Whether or not he has satisfied the judge about the merits of his case, time will tell in due course.
We feel sympathy for him in losing his mother, Princess Diana, prematurely in such tragic circumstances and for the impact of that profound loss upon him. He has made known his views to the effect that he and his mother had been subjected to persistent harassment over years by those seeking newsworthy stories and photographs. He has also expressed concerns that similar treatment was being directed by the media at his wife, Meghan.
One wonders what the profile of the British Royal Family would be in the absence of the mass media. Princess Diana became one of the best-known women in the world through the media. It was reported previously on a number of occasions that at times she sought to use the media to her advantage. Prince Harry, particularly since his marriage, has not been above attempting to do the same – witness the TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Whatever the rights and wrongs behind the litigation initiated on behalf of Prince Harry against the Mirror Group Newspapers, one wonders what his father and the other members of the Royal Family have made of this action by him in departing from the well-established adage – "don’t explain, don’t complain".

Ian W Thomson, Lenzie.

The Herald: Prince Harry, seen here with his barrister David Sherborne, has had a gruelling week in courtPrince Harry, seen here with his barrister David Sherborne, has had a gruelling week in court (Image: PA)

The pain of a private dentist
I NOTE your article about how long it's been since some NHS patients have visited their dentist ("Alarm at low dentist visit rates in Scots NHS", The Herald, June 8). I've been attached to our local NHS dentist in Dumfries for several years.
My last visit was just before Covid. In the past six months or so they've gone private. The letter informing me of this made various claims about the benefits of this new private practice. 
Having agreed to join the private practice, paying £15.50 per month, I expected top-notch treatment when a bit of my tooth broke off.
I phoned them up around April asking for an appointment. The best they could give me was August 15 unless I was in pain. 
Top-class treatment? 
Ivor Matheson, Dumfries.

• I WAS concerned to read that nearly half of patients registered with an NHS dentist had not visited in the past two years . The article does not mention what the reasons for this may be; however, it seems to me that the Covid pandemic must be a major factor. I am registered with an NHS dentist and know that they were not seeing any patients for a considerable time. 
Also, it was not clear when dentists were starting to see patients again, I certainly wasn't contacted by my dentist practice to confirm this. As a result I have only recently attended my first check-up appointment since pre-Covid. I assume therefore that I will be captured in this statistic and would guess that my reason for non-attendance will apply to many others.
Brian Douglas, Ayr. 

NHS is not as sick as all that
ANENT recent appreciative correspondence regarding the NHS, may I add my voice? I saw my GP with a slight concern about a lump in my breast four weeks ago, was referred to Gartnavel, and attended my appointment today. Within the space of 65 minutes, I saw and was examined by a consultant; received a mammogram, an ultrasound, the aspiration of a cyst; and the consultant then took a biopsy. This, she reassured me, was just a final check, as the previous procedures had not caused concern.
This happened to occur the day after a dear friend died of breast cancer, diagnosed 10 years ago. She also received wonderful treatment and care from the NHS, and the Maggie Centre. There, she joined a poetry group, and made many new friends, blossoming in the therapy that writing poetry gave them. Her wonderful, inspiring book was launched last week, just in time for her to know how much it was appreciated.
I acknowledge I was extremely fortunate to receive such quick attention when many others are in limbo. And even more lucky to appear to be healthy. The NHS is not as sick as some perceive.
Lesley Mackiggan, Glasgow.

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Menace of the silent cyclists
I ENDORSE the letter from Robert Love (June 9) regarding the menace of cyclists on pavements.
I suppose that I would be classified as elderly (I am in my late seventies), although I don’t feel it. I use a walking stick to help my mobility.
On walking along a Sustrans path on an old railway line near my house, I’m regularly passed by cyclists going at speed. They are often two abreast and appear to take no notice of other path users. It would help me to move out of the way if they would use a bell, but that seems beyond most of them.
The considerate one are those with children, and I’m often thanked for moving to the side of the path.
Gordon W Smith, Paisley.

Enough to make you weep
UNFORTUNATELY I did not read the letter from Thelma Edwards (June 7) which moved your reader, Steve Brennan, to tears whilst sitting in a public bar reading The Herald (Letters, June 9). However, today, my Herald in hand, I did have my own eye-watering moment whilst ordering a pint of Spanish lager and a 32.5g packet of plain crisps, manufactured in Nothern Ireland, in a favourite hostelry just short of Glasgow's West End. The bill came to £7.30, the crisp element amounting to £1.20.
For a moment I thought that our SNP politicians had included savoury packaging in their ill-fated Deposit Return Scheme.
David G Will, Milngavie.