Rock-bottom budgets mean bigger classes, less support for special needs and fewer books
Directors of education used the quiet period for news to issue a headline-grabbing New Year message to the Government about the effects of underfunding on schools.
The claim by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, which represents directors in all 32 authorities, that there will be 1,500 fewer teaching jobs over the next year follows a pre-Christmas demand by the main teaching union for action by the Secretary of State.
The association warned of bigger classes, less support for pupils with special needs or behavioural problems and less money for books and equipment. Anne Wilson, the association's general secretary, who is director in Dundee, said: "We are very concerned about what we see is a crisis."
Her words echo those of Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who warned the Secretary of State of the impact of cuts local authorities will have to impose. Mr Smith called on councils to work with the unions to manage the budget crisis.
The bleak outlook is based on details of provisional education budgets for 1997-98 supplied by 28 councils. John Travers, the association's president and director in North Ayrshire, said: "Many new councils are still deciding what the effects will be on them of the local government settlements."
All faced cuts across their services as a result of Scottish Office underfunding confirmed in the council-by-council allocations announced last week.
Mr Travers said: "We are now reaching the point where it is cut piled upon cut and this is having a very detrimental effect on the level of educational provision that is offered. It is bound to affect the number of teachers we employ. It will mean that teachers receive less support and there is going to be far less money for things like books and equipment."
Schools would have to resort to funding from parent-teacher associations for many things that were now taken for granted. "In the past five years the number of primary classes with more than 30 pupils has already risen by 2 per cent and this upward trend is set to continue. Parents will end up paying more for school meals, bus passes and music lessons. These latest cuts will affect every child in Scotland," Mr Travers said.
Mr Travers said the Scottish Office was adding to the burden on schools by giving councils extra responsibility for implementing national testing, Higher Still, new seat-belt legislation and devolved management.
The association is also concerned by the shoddy condition of many school buildings and warns many will deteriorate further because of cuts in capital allocations to councils. An estimated Pounds 194 million is needed to bring buildings up to standard, and at the current rate of capital spending that would take 13 years.
Mr Travers said: "The physical state of a school and its environment can have a constructive or negative influence on the learning process, and resources are desperately needed to replace temporary classrooms and for major repairs such as reroofing and window replacement."
Shelagh Rae, director for Renfrewshire and ADES vice-president, said that Pounds 90 million was being taken out of education in terms of savings this year. Around 1,500 teaching jobs could be lost on top of 1,200 last year. More support posts might disappear.
Mrs Rae said that Pounds 35 was available for each primary pupil for books and equipment for all aspects of the curriculum, but the average cost of replacing a reading scheme was Pounds 28 per pupil. In secondary schools, Pounds 72 was available per pupil. That meant Pounds 7 per pupil for mathematics, but a new maths textbook cost Pounds 9. It would cost a parent Pounds 18 a week if a child travelled by bus, took school meals and had a weekly music lesson.
ADES office-bearers stress that the association is strictly non-political but will be writing to Michael Forsyth seeking a meeting and sending copies of their briefing to all political parties.
Mr Travers said: "The Secretary of State did take steps last year and this year and gave special consideration to the police and fire services. If he agrees to meet us we would be asking him to give the same priority to other services."