Schools are being forced to ditch continuing professional development if it is not provided by their local authority - even though education directors and the Scottish Government agree it is "fundamentally" important.
CPD budgets are being "wiped out", making it prohibitive for schools to pay for training from external providers. The number of in-house courses is said to be at a record high. At least one authority has gone so far as to ban external courses, while there are increasing cases of staff responsible for CPD not being replaced when they leave or retire.
National CPD co-ordinator Margaret Alcorn told The TESS that "quite a number" of authorities have cut their CPD budgets.
Alex Easton, CPD manager for School Leaders Scotland, said there was "little doubt" that cutbacks had resulted in CPD budgets being "decimated", even "wiped out".
Headteachers were no longer able to send their staff to desirable CPD events because of councils' financial difficulties, he added. Some heads could not afford to attend his organisation's annual conference in Cumbernauld last week.
The TESS has learned that South Lanarkshire Council, having frozen its CPD budget, has issued an edict ordering schools not to send staff on courses delivered by organisations other than the authority itself, unless non- refundable bookings have already been made. A spokesman said the restrictions on such spending would only be in place to the end of the financial year next March.
Other authorities believed to be struggling with CPD budgets, or which have already made cuts, include Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire. Glasgow City Council said earlier this year that it would budget for more after-school or "twilight" courses to reduce the reliance on supply teachers.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland, said his organisation had cancelled four CPD courses because of lack of numbers. "The response has been that `the courses are right, but we can't afford to come,'" he said. "It's not simply that they don't have the money in CPD budgets, but it is difficult to get out of school because they would need to pay for cover."
It would be a "tragedy" if CPD budgets were under threat, according to an Educational Institute of Scotland spokesman. Denying teachers the development they needed, he said, went against "the letter and spirit" of the teachers' agreement. "We won't be able to deliver A Curriculum for Excellence unless there is quality CPD and in a variety of forms for every teacher," he said.
There is not, however, a uniform picture across Scotland and, in some authorities, the impact of financial pressures on CPD has been minimal.
At West Lothian Council, Gordon Ford, director of education and cultural services, pointed to discussions between Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland during which it was agreed that CPD was of "fundamental" importance. Cuts to CPD budgets were a "last resort", which the council had not entertained.
A director at one of Scotland's most innovative CPD providers believes the picture may not be as bad as some have suggested. The Tapestry Partnership's Brian Boyd said CPD had become more central to authorities' plans for education and, as a result, less vulnerable to cuts. He added that it had become less about organising a one-off conference and "hoping it makes an impact", and more about sustainable programmes.
Mrs Alcorn agreed that headteachers often preferred in-house CPD taken by colleagues, as it was more effective than bringing in experts to "sprinkle magic fairy dust". A greater emphasis on it being in-house could, therefore, be construed as a positive.
But the EIS spokesman said: "We need to have a mixed economy. Some local authorities are offering only in-house CPD and a lot of that has a great deal to commend it, but the big advantage of university-based CPD is that it offers reflective space. It takes teachers away from their line-managed environment."
Professor Boyd said: "For me, the key message is pedagogy and the key vehicle is CPD, and we need to try and keep that at the forefront of our minds. There's a growing recognition that the way to make sure A Curriculum for Excellence leads to improvement is through CPD."