Glasgow has launched a three-year drive to raise levels of achievement in schools but admits that budget cuts will lead to fewer teachers in classrooms, larger classes and the loss of artistic, sporting and cultural activities.
The city, which will carry forward a deficit of #163;3.2 million into next year's education budget after failing to make savings of #163;5 million, has highlighted key areas such as early intervention, basic skills and attendance. A drive to improve literacy and numeracy includes a reading skills survey in 24 primaries, revised intervention guidelines, and baseline assessments in primary 1.
Christopher Mason, Liberal Democrat leader and the controlling Labour group's key opponent, hailed the strategy as a last chance for the city. "The middle classes are largely losing confidence in the education system. This is a document that deserves their confidence," Dr Mason said.
But he warned that heads and teachers would view the document "with great cynicism" unless it was followed by action to close unviable schools and switch funds elsewhere. "Policies without resources are merely propaganda. It will be quite difficult to deliver objectives if all you have to offer is cuts across the board," he said.
The consequences of failure would be "unimaginable", Dr Mason added. He said: "It will not help education if savings from school closures go towards some capping level. They should go towards education."
Malcolm Green, Labour's education convener, accepted the need to redirect resources "from things we do not really need into raising levels of achievement". Dr Green called for a partnership with central government, something that had been lacking under the current Conservati ve administration. The service needed stability and assurances about funding before the education department could bring about the desired changes.
At the unwritten core of the scheme is a long-term rolling programme of school closures. However, the council argues it cannot close schools while the opting-out legislation remains.
Ken Corsar, director of education, admitted the city was lagging well behind the national learning targets set by the Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets and called for "realistic goals and a gradual approach of self-improvement each year". He accused the Scottish Office of overloading teachers and promised that the council would not push progress in the 5-14 programme and Higher Still beyond the resources available. "We are not going to parachute this on top of schools as yet another burden for staff to cope with," Mr Corsar said. "This is a critical education document central to our business for a considerable time to come."
Peter Mullen, Roman Catholic Church representative, said he feared "a lot of cynicism" in schools and warned there was too broad a focus in the document, which will now be discussed with headteachers.