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Directors say cuts have gone too far

Scotland's directors of education have issued their grimmest warning to date of the consequences for schools if Government funding is not increased.

A closed session for council leaders in Edinburgh yesterday (Thursday) heard a report from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland which states: "Authorities' ability to sustain the existing level of services is under real threat. Public expectation is not being met and this will be further compromised if the true cost of delivering an effective education service is not recognised."

This is a reference to directors' concern at the prospect of a public sector pay freeze for the fourth year running in 1997-98 which will leave councils to meet the full cost of salary awards. They say education authorities need at the very least an additional Pounds 58 million for pay and price increases based on "a very modest inflation allowance" of 2.5 per cent of the Pounds 2.33 billion local authority education bill.

The association says it has "grave concerns . . . should the funding needs of the service continue to be ignored". John Dobie, Edinburgh's head of education support services and past ADES president, who made the presentation to yesterday's meeting, warned: "Cut flowers never produce seed or fruit."

The report continues: "The notion that pay and price increases can be achieved through efficiency measures is folly. In education terms this can only mean larger class sizes, reduced spending power to acquire vital services and supplies, and key support services being reduced or withdrawn to meet budgetary targets."

A TES Scotland poll of local authorities has revealed that the four cities alone face cuts totalling more than Pounds 30 million to bring spending within Government capping limits. The directors say: "Further erosion of the resource base for education will have major implications which will ultimately lead to increases in class sizes beyond national agreements, reduce or indeed withdraw crucial support services such as staff development and school library services, and seriously undermine authorities' ability to sustain existing levels of support for special educational needs which is already under intolerable pressure."

Councils believe they are still suffering from the effects of local government reorganisation, and figures from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy put the costs of reform at Pounds 281 million, four times the Scottish Office estimate.

Directors claim these costs have had a disproportionate effect on education as the biggest element of council budgets, reinforced by the fact that spending on education by the vast majority of local authorities is below what the Scottish Office assessment says is required. This has "great significance" since the smaller unitary education authorities can no longer absorb cuts in the way the former regional councils could.

Mr Dobie warned chief executives, finance directors and senior councillors who attended yesterday's meeting that education could not continue with the "fairly arbitrary budgetary reductions" of the past.

The directors point out that, apart from existing pressures on the service, new burdens will arise from legislative and policy changes which will have to be paid for. These are Higher Still, transport safety, specific grants for in-service training, school security, the Children Act, nursery voucher administration and modern language teaching in primary schools.

The ADES will now undertake a more detailed investigation of spending policy which it hopes will provide new evidence for its campaign to increase funding.

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