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Brewing budget storm will bring sea changes

There's a great storm brewing, as one of the council leaders in this week's News Focus on council budgets puts it (pages 12-15) - and it's unlikely that anyone in education will be able to weather it unscathed.

If last year's cuts to classroom assistants, foreign language assistants and science technicians seemed harsh, it's nothing to this year's measures. Now it's teachers who are going - sometimes in line with falls in pupil rolls, sometimes with conserved salaries, sometimes with the introduction of 33-period weeks. But be in no doubt - they are leaving a staffroom near you.

To left and to right, Scottish government policies are being blown off course as the 32 local councils announce their strategies for coping with national cuts. How many teachers can be removed before the agreement of a 51,131-strong workforce is broken? How many class sizes can be raised before SNP manifesto promises of smaller classes are tossed to the winds? And how many thousands of pounds can be pulled before Gaelic and modern language policies have to be jettisoned?

Through all of this, education authorities and schools are supposed to deliver exciting new initiatives in Curriculum for Excellence, start on the first courses for Nationals 4 and 5 and raise attainment across the board. They are expected to deliver social policies that protect the vulnerable and the most deprived, and "get it right for every child". Meanwhile, the continuing professional development that is required to help achieve all of that is also being cut back.

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. That does not, of course, mean that these developments will not happen, or that there won't be brilliant and creative work being done across the country, because so much of that comes down to individuals with great ideas who can inspire colleagues and pupils around them, or managers who are committed to delivering them against the odds. But the effort to do so in school after school, and class after class, will need to be that much greater.

Pity the poor headteachers and deputes, particularly in primary, who are being left to carry the can, who will be expected in future to teach more classes and manage multiple schools, and find cover when there are no supply staff around. And heaven forbid that teachers or heads should succumb to stress and take sick leave, because that too is going to be one of this year's "efficiencies".

If all of this seems bad, the forecast looks worse. Have a look at the chart of government resources declining until 2017 (page 14). Then count your blessings that the cuts are being phased in over four years, and pray that authorities find just enough leeway to steer a steady course.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor, gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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