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In-service atrisk as cashcontrols go

Neil Munro reports from last week's meeting of the General Teaching Council in Falkirk.

The Secretary of State's decision to remove specific grants for teacher in-service training was heavily criticised at last week's meeting of the General Teaching Council in Falkirk. One director of education warned that funds for training could disappear from local authority budgets.

The move to end the special funding scheme, worth Pounds 9 million in the current financial year, was made at the behest of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Cosla has a long-standing objection to specific grants because they limit councils' freedom to spend. Michael Forsyth, in a rare act of support, included their removal as part of his "bonfire of controls" over local authorities.

The GTC believes the transfer of cash for training into the general Government grant for local authorities from next April is "dangerous" and members agreed to register a strong protest with the Scottish Office.

The council's reservations were confirmed by Ken Macleod, director of education in Dumfries and Galloway, who warned that funds for in-service training would be "a soft target" for local authorities if the alternative was cutting teacher jobs or closing schools.

Councillors had made that perfectly clear to him, Mr Macleod later told The TES Scotland.

The specific grant scheme, which also applies to community education staff, allocates local authorities three-quarters of the cost of approved training laid down by the Scottish Office. The scheme supports "relevant expenditure" of up to Pounds 12 million.

Jim McCall, vice-dean in charge of the Jordanhill education faculty at Strathclyde University, said he had doubts whether the education authorities were spending up to that limit and suspected actual expenditure had declined.

Tony Finn, head of St Andrew's High in Kirkcaldy, who chairs the GTC's education committee, said there were instances of teacher training institutions, themselves under growing financial pressure, topping up councils' share of the training grant as the price of "keeping them afloat". Mr Finn added: "We know it shouldn't happen, but it does."

Professor McCall, who asked if any attempt was made to monitor how the grant was spent, was told by Lorna Brownlee, the Scottish Office representative at the meeting, that returns from the authorities could be made available.

Ivor Sutherland, the council's registrar, stressed the importance of such scrutiny when the changeover is made.

Wolseley Brown, a primary school representative on the GTC, warned: "Virtually every day, it seems, a glossy brochure appears in schools offering highly dubious cut-price training."

* The council wants teachers of visually impaired pupils to hold a postgraduate diploma in visual impairment or its equivalent. It agreed that more specialist teachers are needed in mainstream schools to keep up the pace of integration.

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