A week in education

5th February 2010 at 00:00

The two most senior watchdogs of the public purse in Scotland have given the clearest warning yet that even frontline services like education will not be immune from the economic crisis. Sir John Elvidge, head of the Scottish civil service, told a conference in Edinburgh last week that the 10 per cent reduction in public spending in Scotland over the next four years could reach 20 per cent by 2017 if the recession is prolonged. His advice to officials is to "err on the side of pessimism in their planning and radicalism in their thinking". And Robert Black, the Auditor General for Scotland, warned of pressures to reduce the number of schools, colleges and universities, saying that "for a population of five million, we have an awful lot of estate", which costs pound;7 billion to maintain.

The SNP Government's spending record on education came under further scrutiny this week as official figures revealed that it is not just the number of teachers who are in decline: there were 940 fewer support staff employed in schools in 2009, compared with 2007. According to Labour's schools spokesman Ken Macintosh: "The SNP's attitude to job losses in the classroom can be described as lackadaisical at best, yet each of these posts affects our children directly."

Education Secretary Michael Russell came in for strong criticism from his opponents after his candid interview published in last week's TESS. His acceptance of falling teacher numbers and "hope" that they would not fall further led his Labour shadow Des McNulty to suggest that the Government was "losing control over the education system". And Margaret Smith, the Liberal Democrats education spokesperson, said Mr Russell had "admitted defeat."

A BBC Scotland investigation claims to have uncovered the fact that primary teachers consistently overestimate how well their pupils are doing. It cites figures from the Scottish Survey of Achievement, showing that pupils' results in reading, maths and science were between one-and-a- half and three times worse than their teachers thought they would be. The BBC also revealed that primary teachers lacked confidence in teaching the sciences to P7 pupils. The "hitherto unreported" figures were quoting the 2007 SSA report - first disclosed in The TESS on March 6, 2009.

An inspection of child-protection services in the Western Isles has awarded only one score of "very good" (response to immediate concerns) and also judged one area "satisfactory" (meeting needs and reducing long-term harm); the other four grades were "good". The HMIE-led team found that services worked well together and would be able to make necessary improvements, including more systematic recording, reviewing and analysing cases of children in need of protection.

Glasgow City Council will vote today on proposals to close Stone-dyke and St Mark's primaries, which officials said were below 50 per cent capacity. Three other primaries are to benefit from a pound;6 million refurbishment package. Together, the moves mean no primary school is left in D condition, said Jonathan Findlay, executive member for education. In its review of additional support for learning (ASL) schools, the authority plans to close St Vincent's School for hearing impaired children and relocate its 17 pupils to units in nursery, primary and secondary schools. St Aidan's and St Joan of Arc special schools would close and all 140 children move into St Vincent's.

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