Money troubles lie ahead

Fife Council, already millions adrift on education spending, is just one local authority facing serious financial shortfalls this year

THE FINANCIAL pressures on local authorities are likely to intensify in the coming year as they struggle to fund the Scottish Executive's key commitment to reduce class sizes.

Fife Council, which reported last year it was pound;1 million adrift in implementing the teacher induction scheme for probationers, has now revealed further shortfalls of pound;1.3 million to cut teachers' contact time with their pupils and pound;800,000 to reduce class sizes from August.

"That's pound;2.1 million of expenditure which Fife is not getting support for, despite the fact that we have to implement the same national priorities in education as everyone else," said James McKinstry, the council's senior manager for educational resources. "We believe there is an inequity in the way the resources are distributed to local authorities by the executive."

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland says a number of authorities are facing similar problems, and its advice is for councils to keep pressing the executive to address the issue.

Fife has already succeeded in pruning its pound;300 million education budget to find pound;8 million in efficiency savings so far this year. At last week's meeting of its children's services committee, councillors agreed a raft of measures to impose further reductions to reduce its overspend from pound;3.6 million to pound;224,000.

A harsh squeeze on schools' budgets was only avoided by a last-minute allocation from Fife's share of the additional pound;60 million for school improvements announced by Hugh Henry, the Education Minister, at the end of November.

Despite its difficulties, the committee agreed to comply in full with the executive's policy of reducing class sizes to a maximum of 25 pupils in P1 and to 20 in S1S2 English and maths.

Fife was initially told to aim for a total of 4,300 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers by August this year to meet the class size pledge and the national target of increasing teacher numbers to 53,000. But after protests that this was neither necessary nor fundable, the executive revised the figure to 3,900, which is around 200 above its current FTE complement.

But the council is planning only to take on an extra 66 primary and secondary teachers which, although it is more than the Government's funding allows, falls considerably short of the executive's expectation that the council will have another 200 teachers in post by August.

If the ADES view is correct and this is replicated in other authorities, it would cast serious doubt on whether the executive's target of 53,000 can be achieved - an embarrassment in an election year.

But the executive says Fife has been given just over pound;2million this year and pound;3 million next year to meet the class size and class contact commitments.

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