Education spending in Scottish local authorities has been “relatively protected” in recent years, according to a new report.
However, the level of services currently offered is "simply unsustainable", councils are warning. This comes at a time when pupils' overall performance has been shown to improve over the past several years, albeit more slowly of late.
The report by local government research body, the Improvement Service, found that total revenue funding has dropped 8.3 per cent in real terms, from £10.5 billion in 2010-11 to £9.6bn in 2017-18.
It states: "Council spending across Scotland did stabilise against trend in 2017-18, but not sufficiently to offset the major reductions experienced since 2010-11. Across that period, service performance has been maintained remarkably well with improving trends in measurable performance across services.
Spending in education and care had been "relatively protected" during this period. As a result, most other service areas – including culture and leisure, planning and roads, and environmental services – had seen a “substantial real reduction in spending".
The report highlighted consistent improvement in students’ educational performance since 2011-12, with the most rapid improvement noted in the most deprived areas.
However, the rate of improvement has slowed in the past two years for all groups, which "reflects an overall slowing in progress to close the attainment gap".
The report also highlighted that the participation of 16- to 19-year-olds in further education, higher education, apprenticeships, training and employment has improved year on year, to an overall participation rate of almost 92 per cent.
But satisfaction with schools has fallen for the sixth year running.
Meanwhile, spend per primary and secondary pupil has fallen by 8.1 per cent and 3.7 per cent respectively since 2010-11 (during which time there has been a 9.6 per cent increase in primary and a 6.3 per cent reduction in secondary pupil numbers).
Scotland’s 32 councils are preparing to set their budgets over the coming weeks, with subject choice, music instruction and registration classes already known to be areas of education spending that may be affected. There have been indications that pressure will increase on headteachers to find savings.
Cosla president Alison Evison said: "What councils are continuing to achieve for communities is impressive considering the financial challenges we face – but obviously, as today's report clearly shows, this is simply unsustainable in the longer term."
She added: "Make no mistake, Scotland's councils face really difficult choices and will have to take tough decisions in the months ahead, as the demand for our services and the reduction in funding clash head-on."
Public finance minister Kate Forbes said: "The Scottish government has continued to ensure our partners in local government receive a fair funding settlement despite further cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK government.
"Taken together, the enhanced financial package to councils offers £187 million of increased funding and flexibility to local authorities, providing additional spending power to directly support their core services, on top of the £11.1bn local government settlement."