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Crunch time as councils wield axe in response to budget cuts

Pressure is mounting on education budgets as councils across Scotland move to finalise their funding arrangements for the forthcoming financial year.

Highland Council has proposed eradicating the classroom assistant post in all of its primary schools in an effort to make savings.

The move would see the removal of 156 full-time equivalent jobs, which are filled by 342 people. In their place, 60 full-time equivalent jobs as learning support auxiliaries would be created and filled by 150 people on a part-time basis.

While classroom assistants are allocated to schools, the new auxiliaries would be assigned to children with additional support needs.

Highland schools also face the loss of up to a quarter of their computers, following the signing of a pound;70 million information technology contract between the council and contractor Fujitsu.

Andrew Stewart, Highland area secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the council's IT deal might be adequate for offices, but schools were bound to suffer.

A spokesman for the council said: "This IT contract covers education and corporate requirements, and educational needs and development in the curriculum and use of IT in schools were very definitely at the heart of the discussions with all of the bidders."

Thousands of machines would be replaced in a pound;4 million investment programme and further consultation with headteachers was still to take place, he said.

In Aberdeen City, meanwhile, a split emerged this week between the Liberal Democrats and SNP members of the coalition administration on the need for 900 compulsory redundancies, 400 of them among education staff.

SNP group leader Kevin Stewart, supported by Labour, won a vote to pursue 600 voluntary job losses, removing the immediate threat of compulsory redundancies. The Lib Dems had continued backing the compulsory redundancy plan, saying SNP councillors had caved into pressure from the SNP Government.

Neighbouring Aberdeenshire Council is due to set its budget next week, with savings of pound;51m over the next two years to be achieved through the shedding of up to 900 jobs. Here again, the council is split in its approach, with SNP and Labour councillors backing a motion for voluntary redundancies and early retirement for 600 employees, and the Lib Dems and Conservatives opposing it.

Orkney Islands Council has recommended a pound;4m savings target for the next financial year (pound;12m over the next three years) and a reduction of 81 posts over the year ahead.

Argyll and Bute Council, already mired in controversy over plans to close a third of its rural primary schools, has moved to resolve what it calls a "discrepancy in redundancy procedures". The council inherited an employment guarantee for teachers from the former Strathclyde Regional Council which gave them immunity from compulsory redundancy - councillors are now being asked to bring teachers' employment terms into line with other council staff.

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