Parents lead protest on cash crisis

David Henderson

As the Scottish Parent Teacher Council today (Friday) presses home the argument about schools' underfunding to Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, it is clear that councils are facing unprecedented cuts. Most will be forced to close schools, raise charges, shed posts and trim levels of service.

East Ayrshire Council, which is being forced to cut spending on education by pound;1.35 million, or 2.6 per cent, is taking the unusual step of consulting with parents, teachers and the wider public about ways to implement the savings.

The largest cut of pound;300,000 is targeted at the provision of extra staffing for schools in areas of deprivation. Fifteen teachers are likely to be redeployed. The council is also planning to close five schools, along with Glaisnock Outdoor Centre.

John Mulgrew, director of education, said the current staffing standards set by Strathclyde Region would be maintained but surplus places in primaries and secondaries would be reviewed in a bid to save pound;100,000 in the next financial year.

Neighbouring North Ayrshire, at its first education committee on Tuesday, agreed to savings totalling pound;1.24 million, or 2 per cent of the budget.

The four main city councils appear to be hardest hit. John Kemp, education convener in Dundee, forecast "drastic savings" of around 12 per cent and said final decisions would be taken within the next few weeks.

"I have asked the director of education for a review of school accommodation and mergers are very much on the agenda in both primary and secondary sectors. Staffing is last on the list but it cannot be ruled out," Mr Kemp said.

Aberdeen is facing total cuts of pound;24 million, or around 10 per cent, but has yet to decide where the axe will fall. John Stodter, director of education, warned: "Schools have got to expect cuts."

Mr Stodter said the Government's formula for allocating funds to councils did not take account of deprivation factors, nor the rise in pupil numbers in recent years.

In Glasgow, school closures are back on the agenda with as many as 10 schools earmarked, four secondaries and six primaries.

In Edinburgh, councillors and officials are holding talks with school boards and headteachers about cuts of between 3 per cent and 5 per cent in school budgets. The council is ready to remove pound;4.4 million from primaries and pound;4.6 million from secondaries and find overall education savings of 10 per cent.

Around pound;800,000 is due to come out of the community education service.

Elizabeth Maginnis, education convener, said schools had been told that a 5 per cent cut would put at risk 600 teachers' posts. "That is one teacher in every primary and four for every secondary," she pointed out.

"The Government was warned that it would cost more to run 32 education authorities than to run 12. Now the truth of the prediction is evident," Judith Gillespie, the SPTC's convener, said.

Areas of deprivation, she continued, were no longer receiving the extra support they needed, while school closures were not a solution. "In the short term, school closure costs money. Alternative provision is made for the pupils and, secondly, parents are likely to go for an opting out ballot."

Mrs Gillespie added: "Some schools may drop below nationally agreed staffing standards."

The Scottish School Board Association has forecast that a cut of 5 per cent to 10 per cent in an authority of average size with a budget of pound;60 million could mean the loss of between 90 and 180 teachers.

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David Henderson

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