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Shetland retreats on cuts

Shetland reinforced its reputation for postponing difficult spending decisions this week as councillors called for further reports on specialist primary teaching.

The education department wants to cut back the peripatetic teaching service in art, music and physical education to Shetland's 35 primaries to save Pounds 180,458, cut back on music instruction by Pounds 72,000 and restrict swimming to 10 sessions a year to yield another Pounds 58,000.

Officials are struggling to find Pounds 500,000 in savings from general education expenditure and transfer another Pounds 500,000 to an oil-based charitable trust as part of the overall aim of reducing council spending by Pounds 5 million by 2000. The department's plans would have cut specialist teaching from an hour a week to 45 minutes for each subject and 142 fewer pupils would have received music instruction.

These measures would have led to the loss of nine full-time equivalent posts which a report by Les Millham, divisional education officer, admitted could not be achieved by voluntary redundancy or early retirement. The local Educational Institute of Scotland has reacted with fury, describing the cuts as "ludicrous".

Peter Campbell, the EIS secretary, said union members were appalled. "We will be resisting this all the way along the line and putting forward educational arguments why this should not take place," Mr Campbell said. The council could use its oil revenue millions "to solve this problem in an instant".

The education committee decided on Monday to placate the EIS by investigating the use of the charitable trust. Councillors are also to consider charging for music tuition to enable it to survive and will consider alternative sources of funding for teaching traditional Shetland knitwear skills, currently provided by 14 part-time instructors at a cost of Pounds 63,000.

Bill Smith, the education committee chairman, stressed that the proposals were "at a very early stage" and would eventually go out to consultation. The education department says any changes could not be implemented before August 1999.

Shetland's next flashpoint is likely to come over secondary staffing. The recent external report by management consultants observed that the teaching complement at the main six-year school, Anderson High in Lerwick, was generous. Officials are now to draw up plans for allocating staff based on pupil numbers.

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