Back to the chalkboard

5th December 2008 at 00:00
Budget cuts, and now the credit crunch, are forcing councils to slash costs which unions claim could set teachers and education back in time

A new round of "extremely disturbing" cuts in Scotland's largest authority will create "two-tier" educa- tion and force teachers back in time.

That was the prognosis among teachers' leaders after Glasgow City Council announced a series of radical measures designed to save Pounds 53 million between 2009 and 2011.

The proposed cut of Pounds 20m each for education and social work over two years in Glasgow came days before an Educational Institute of Scotland survey showed a large majority of teachers reporting decreased classroom spending which, they claimed, was damaging pupils' education.

Some 400 jobs in Glasgow will go, and it is understood the council is considering the option of not replacing schools' departing depute heads. Headteachers will be asked to control their own budgets.

"These are not efficiency savings any more - it's way beyond that," said Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

Staffing in schools would become "very, very tight". Mr Cunningham, a former headteacher at Glasgow's Hillhead High, said city schools usually looked at intake in September and adjusted staffing accordingly, but predicted "there will be very little adjustment up the way" this year.

Course choices would be badly affected, with the Scottish Government's flagship languages and science baccalaureates likely to fall victim. "I imagine very few schools would be able to afford to run the baccalaureate," he said. "If it becomes a qualification that's only accessible to schools with significant numbers or financial resources, then it will be a two-tier system."

It was not possible to predict the full impact, but it was clear that current aims for attainment, achievement and implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence would become unrealistic.

"I would be going back to the drawing board in terms of outcomes and expectations," he said.

Glasgow EIS local secretary Willie Hart described the situation as "extremely disturbing - and I use that word advisedly". Schools had already cut back heavily on basic materials such as scissors, rubbers and glue. "I think we're heading back, if we're not careful, to the days when schools were a matter of teachers and chalkboards," he said.

Glasgow City Council was "out of order" in not providing more protection from the financial crisis: it should have been looking to merge underpopulated schools and make it easier for younger and less expensive teachers to get promotions.

He believes the devolution of responsibility to headteachers was a way of "passing on the hard decisions" to schools.

A Glasgow City Council spokes-man said: "The perfect storm of inflation added to the credit crunch means there are significant pressures on our budgets, which we will have to deal with. If we do not, we will see our reserves cut to an unacceptably low level."

The EIS polled 30 of its 32 branches on the effects of reduced budgets. Some 19 recorded a negative impact, two positive, and nine neutral.

- Residential schools are as big a threat to its financial stability as rising fuel and energy costs, according to officials in Glasgow.

A report to the city council's executive committee last Friday was unequivocal about where the blame lay for a ballooning revenue budget overspend, predicted to reach Pounds 15.5million by the end of the financial year if immediate action was not taken: it was "a result of a number of key risks relating to energy costs, income shortfalls, fuel costs and residential schools".

A previous report showed the combined budget for residential school places, supplemented care packages and foster care was overspent by Pounds 2,043,000, due partly to an unexpected increase in children requiring placements, some travelling as far as Dumfries and Galloway.

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