Bin hard copies to save money

6th June 2008 at 01:00
Three fewer photocopied sheets a day is the target the Scottish Government has set for schools in order to save millions
Three fewer photocopied sheets a day is the target the Scottish Government has set for schools in order to save millions

The Scottish Government has been accused of "micro-managing" schools by demanding a pound;4.6 million annual reduction in photocopying costs, undermining its promise that schools would be left to run themselves.

Ministers hope Glow, the national schools intranet, will see each of the country's 700,000 pupils using one fewer photocopied sheet per day, saving 3p a time and pound;4 million a year.

They also want teachers to reach the "ambitious target" of two fewer photocopied sheets a day, saving pound;604,000 a year - pointing to Islay High, a "paperless" school of 242 pupils that has shown annual savings of pound;15,000.

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, queried how an edict on photocopying was in line with the concordat between central and local government, which gave councils greater responsibility over how they spent their money. "This is a Government which did not want to micro-manage, and yet here is a superb example of exactly that - of the Government trying to micro-manage education," he said. "Where does the concordat fit into that?"

Mr McGregor described the idea of big photocopying savings as "pie in the sky", especially with local authorities increasingly emailing documents and schools printing more hard copies as a result.

"Where do you draw the line?" he asked, envisaging a scenario where a teacher had to stop making copies half-way through an exercise because of a cap on photocopying.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said schools were already working hard to reduce the paper they used, while much training was required for Glow to bed in - so there would be "challenges" in making the envisaged savings.

"People have to get used to new technology and decide whether it's useful to them or not - and that can take a long time," he said.

As part of changes to the education budget, the Government also wants rural schools to make more use of video-conferencing - citing the pound;30,400 saved annually in Argyll and Bute through such technology - and to switch to the Glow email system.

Mr McGregor agreed that greater use of video-conferencing could reduce annual costs - by pound;633,000 in 2010-11 according to the Government - although it would require expensive funding and training.

Mr Dempster cautioned that, while video-conferencing did offer savings, the initial costs were "significant" and, in some instances, the technology was "no substitute" for face-to-face interviews.

The Government hopes schools will give up other email services, which cost 85p to pound;1 per person per year, in favour of "GlowMail", with a saving of pound;275,000 by 2010-11.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, believes Glow should make communications less costly, although local authorities are already doing a lot to find savings.

A Government spokeswoman said Glow was justified on the basis of educational benefits, but that "it seemed realistic to assume there will be some efficiencies made by exploiting its potential". She added that predicted savings from the use of GlowMail were "conservative".

- Meanwhile, teachers will today call for strike action over cuts to council education budgets and the Government's failure to introduce smaller class sizes in the early years.

An emergency motion will be tabled at the EIS annual general meeting, calling on the Government and authorities to enhance "expenditure and staffing levels" or face strike action. Delegates will also consider calls for "a campaign, including industrial action" to fight for class sizes of 20 in P1-3 by August 2009.

The motions come a week after the union warned that class sizes in Glasgow schools would increase for the first time in a decade.

Gordon Matheson, executive member for education in the city, said long-term decisions had to be made, with the focus on numeracy, literacy, childcare support, and modern apprenticeships for all qualified pupils.

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