From crisis of budget cuts to pain of Dunblane

27th December 1996 at 00:00
David Henderson and Neil Munro look back at 1996 from the pages of The TESS - 12 months of spending cuts, school closures, further reform, teacher and parent protests and, the one over-riding event...

The year began with the Scottish Office saying it would not cover a bill for millions of pounds of flood damage to schools caused by the Christmas frosts. It passed responsibility onto local authorities.

Councils should have insured against such disasters but only Central Region had done so. Officials argued the premiums would exceed the cost of repairs. Grampian estimated it would cost a minimum of Pounds 1 million to repair pipes and dry out buildings.

On educational issues, the Educational Institute of Scotland raised concerns about the workload associated with the 5-14 programme and, on January 19, The TESS revealed the National Institute of Economic and Social Research had found Britain was lagging behind competitor countries in mathematical achievement.

Progress in early reading strategies in North Edinburgh primaries made the news on January 26. Moray House Institute research showed that children in P2 classes were showing signs of disaffection with school and losing touch with classmates. Poor attendance and lateness were two factors behind some pupils continuing lack of progress.

Helen Fraser of Moray House said: "Teachers reported that for the most vulnerable children the factors came together: a combination of age, attendance loss, lateness, perceived lack of literacy support outside the school and losing books."

Meanwhile, two key themes of the year - underfunding and local government reform - were hitting the headlines as councils began to trim education budgets. The Scottish Parent Teacher Council called on education minister Raymond Robertson to deliver more resources, and John Kemp, education convener in Dundee, forecast "drastic savings", including a review of school accommodation and mergers.

Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth announced an enquiry into teaching methods in primary and secondary, focusing on mixed-ability teaching. He said the aim was to "foster selection within schools, not selection for schools".

As the rounds of Burns' suppers got under way, the NASUWT's traditional bash in Glasgow was told of the exchange of letters between the firey Tino Ferri, Scottish representative on the UK executive, and David Alexander, Strathclyde senior official.

Mr Alexander had sent a billet-doux to "Ms Tina Ferri". The reply read: "Dear Mr Alexander, I think you are confusing me with American rock singer, Tino Turner".

More seriously, Elizabeth Maginnis, the local authorities' education convener, warned that the Pounds 1,100 nursery vouchers would not meet the true costs, which were up to Pounds 300 more At the Grand Committee in Stirling, Mr Forsyth served notice of legislative intent when castigating Labour councils for failing to test pupils in early secondary. Within the 5-14 test requirements, only 8 per cent were tested in maths in S1S2, 9 per cent in reading and 5 per cent in writing. The figures were "unacceptable".

On February 2, The TESS revealed that the Employment Appeal Tribunal had upheld a decision to back teachers claiming equal pay with principal teachers while carrying out their duties. It could mean a bill of Pounds 20 million in backpay for Strathclyde's 12 successor authorities. Equal pay cases were to continue throughout the year.

Heavy snowfalls closed schools across the country. As parents met children returning home early, parents in Glasgow were using their rights to choose their children's school and altering the pattern of schooling in the city. Edinburgh University researchers found Glasgow was now as divided a city as Edinburgh with a pattern of magnet schools and less popular neighbourhood secondaries.

On February 23, Jotter related the tale of Frank Pignatelli's move from director of education in Strathclyde to Associated Newspapers in London, where he was to get a generous salary and flashy car.

Big Frank, dressed in casual gear, went to a showroom in Glasgow's west end to choose a motor. The salesman was not impressed.

"Can I help you?" "I would like that car, there," replied the outgoing director.

"Wouldn't we all, sir," the salesman continued.

On the sporting front, East Lothian announced a radical Pounds 200,000 scheme to offer all pupils aged 10-14 the chance to take part in six sports for a total of 300 hours within curriculum time. Six sport specific officers were to be appointed to help organise extra-curricular and curricular sport.

Saturday, February 24, marked an historic day in the capital. "I'd like to apologise to Her Majesty's Constabulary. I told them to plan for 5,000. Forty thousand people is now the official police estimate," Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, told a rally to protest about the cuts in education spending.

There had not been a demonstration of that size for decades and it took 90 minutes for the procession to go up the Mound, past the General Assembly building. Shortly after, Helen Liddell, Labour's education spokeswoman, launched her controversial plans for education in Scotland, Every Child is Special, including axing school boards.

On March 8, a TESS survey revealed more than Pounds 78 million was likely to be cut from the 32 councils' education budgets, averaging 3 per cent reductions.

Developments on Higher Still resurfaced following leaks that the levels were to be renamed Access, Intermediate 1 and 2, Higher and Advanced Higher.

Cuts, school closures, testing and vouchers hit the headlines but only one story dominated the news for weeks to come. On Wednesday, March 13, the shootings at Dunblane primary sent shock waves across the world.

The TESS reported: "As anxious parents waited on a freezing grey day outside Dunblane primary on Wednesday, the full horror of the tragedy gripping this quiet cathedral city was etched on every face".

The world responded as the full picture of the horror emerged along with killer Thomas Hamilton's long entanglement with education authorities across central Scotland.

"They came from all over the world. From Singapore and South Africa, from Norway and from Texas," The TESS reported a week later. "From mothers, grandmothers, parents and children, from voluntary groups, factories and shops. From ordinary people everywhere, touched by the unspeakable evil which visited Dunblane primary on the morning of March 13, 1996.

"But what was most perhaps most striking about the countless floral tributes that stretched for half a mile along the pavements outside the school gates, and those whose heady perfume filled the nave of Dunblane's beautiful 13th-century cathedral, was the large number from schools.

"As one poignant tribute said: 'A part of us all died this week'."

By the end of March, closures in Glasgow, nursery vouchers and the arrival of single-tier councils returned to the agenda.

The new local authorities got off to the worst possible financial start. The TESS reported: "Glasgow leads the first wave of closures," closely followed by Edinburgh, Dundee, Highland, East Ayrshire, Stirling and Clackmannan. The announcements were followed by closure threats to outdoor centres in Argyll and the Borders.

Glasgow's city fathers were also forced to charge fees for pre-school places, prompting one head to remark: "I'm using the Tintin principle. That's one tin for the morning collection and the second tin for the afternoon."

The 32 directors of education (only five of them women, we noted) clearly had plenty on their plates - though not cash. One of them, Jim Anderson of Orkney, had enough of two jobs and resigned as chairman of the Higher Still information and publicity group. Later he was to quit his day job as well.

Edinburgh, meanwhile, decided to bid for Pounds 750,000 urban aid from the Scottish Office to improve early literacy skills. The same week, the EIS attacked the Labour party's Every Child is Special proposals, although it avoided the issue at the STUC conference later in the month.

The middle of April saw the EIS battling with another adversary, this time the Nottingham-based Education Lecturing Services. Its appearance in Scotland as a recruiting agency for part-time further education jobs provoked union fears that lecturers' pay and conditions were at risk.

The latest Assessment of Achievement Programme report revealed weak performance in maths, particularly between P7 and S2. This was accompanied by Mr Robertson's announcement that a Scottish Office task group was being set up to tackle underachievement in schools.

Councils should sack "wilfully incompetent" teachers, said Eddie Mullen, past president of the Catholic Headteachers' Association. Addressing the association conference, he said one or two teachers in every secondary were "shortchanging" pupils. There had been no political will to do anything about it.

Mrs Liddell, whose plans include removing failing teachers, was taunted by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council for "dancing to the Tory agenda".

By early May, it was confirmed 13 secondary posts would go in Dundee after Rockwell High's decision to opt out to avoid closure.

Celtic Football Club, The TESS exclusively revealed, was said to be considering an academy of sporting excellence on the site of the closure-threatened John Bosco's Secondary in the Gorbals.

Meeting at its annual conference in Dunblane. the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association heard calls for tough action against growing classroom indiscipline. But delegates failed to reach a conclusion. Alan Lamont, speaking shortly before his retirement through ill health - he died in August - said Scottish Office delay in tackling indiscipline was "wholly unacceptable".

Primary heads meeting at their annual conference backed an equal pay legal challenge involving pay parity with secondary colleagues. Elizabeth Maginnis, the local authorities' education leader, argued: "It is bloody ludicrous that Scottish education is lumbered with conditions of service appropriate to 20 years ago."

Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, described the 5-14 curriculum as a "cop-out" that had done nothing to narrow the gap between primary and secondary. He urged a radical rethink.

School closures were still causing rifts across the country and no more so than in East Ayrshire where plans to close a Catholic primary were enraging parents.

Opting out was again the focus in late May when a Glasgow recruitment agency working for the Scottish Office revealed that local government reform was likely to increase interest in self-governing status because of the budget cuts.

The crisis in local government was typified by Aberdeenshire council which reported an Pounds 11.5 million shortfall in its education budget, equal to 10 per cent cuts. Glasgow, meanwhile, was in chaos over its plan to close 22 schools. Labour councillors backed off from the bulk of the closures, worth a saving of Pounds 2 million.

Lord Cullen began his inquiry into the Dunblane killings.

Reading difficulties in primary resurfaced as Glasgow declared war on pupil underachievement. The council agreed to redeploy teachers in areas of priority. Maire Whitehead, head of St Mirin's primary and Glasgow convener of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, commented: "If we spent a bit less time on expressive arts and environmental studies and put it into literacy and numeracy we would get on an awful lot better."

Higher Still planners pledged that assessment would be "manageable" as further documents were released.

At the beginning of June, Edinburgh announced it had scrapped plans to close six primaries and two nurseries.

Girls' willingness to study was confirmed by the Scottish Examination Board report on the 1995 results. Girls were continuing to achieve better Standard grade and Higher passes, even in maths and physics where boys had traditionally done better.

A survey by Edinburgh University revealed half of pupils would avoid guidance staff if they had problems. None of the secondaries involved in the study gave guidance staff the minimum allocation of 40 minutes a week for every 15 pupils.

Dumfries and Galloway, often first with initiatives, announced it had given the go-ahead for secondaries to set in any subject once pupils reach the second term of first year.

The focus on S1 and S2 continued with the HMI report, Standards and Quality in Scottish Schools, which confirmed a "disappointing picture" in the first two years of secondary. Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector, said teaching was very good or good in 85 per cent of primaries and 80 per cent of subject departments in secondaries.

Concerns about underfunding and threats to comprehensive education dominated the agenda at the 150th EIS conference in Perth. The leadership defeated calls for action over school closures, class sizes, redundancies, cuts and Higher Still. But the union stiffened its resolve against compulsory testing in S1 and S2. May Ferries, union president, proclaimed: "Parents will not wear it and neither will we."

Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, warned of the threat to the concept of universal free state education from charges for nursery education and music tuition.

Secondary heads, members of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, raised hackles in mid-June by calling for an overhaul of "outdated and inflexible" conditions of service which they claimed were constraining their ability to manage.

Directors of education hit back at Government plans for testing in S1, condemning the move towards streaming and a '12-plus' exam.

On a lighter note, Jotter reported a French language difficulty in the north. As each member of the class trotted out the sentence "J'habite a ... en Ecosse", giving their home town, a Caithnessian declared: "J'habite a Wick on e'coast".

By the end of June, a trio of opt-outs was facing Highland as a result of its closures' scheme, and Aberdeen had joined in the attack on the teaching of basics in primary.

The Inspectorate announced an investigation into maths' teaching following persistent evidence of poor performance in primary and early secondary. Research had shown standards had dropped. The broad-based 5-14 curriculum, which hindered "consolidation" of learning, was blamed.

As the summer holidays arrived, it was clear outdoor centres were facing a bleak future because of tightening council budgets. Argyll and Bute, where 10 local authority centres are based, was caught in the storm as the dispute about ownership of centres gathered pace.

Teachers were on holiday but politicians at Westminster were putting the final touches to the Education (Scotland) Bill and plans for S1S2 testing. Mr Forsyth warned school boards they would not be allowed to hold up closures by dishonest opting out strategies.

It emerged that Borders was to relax the timetable for teacher appraisal to ease workload concerns. And Shetland announced it was ready to hire consultants to recommend savings in its Pounds 23 million education budget.

Equal pay cases flared again in early August. The Court of Session overturned earlier tribunal decisions which had backed claims for pay parity with principal teachers. The decision affected around 500 Scottish teachers. Heads of pre-five centres withdrew their equal pay case, and a further tribunal ruled against outdoor education principals claiming equal pay.

Research by Moray House Institute revealed a lack of job satisfaction was forcing primary heads to quit early.

As the schools went back in late August, a TESS survey found councils were dragging their feet on appraisal. Mr Robertson hinted that regulations may be introduced. Under 30 per cent of teachers had been appraised, well behind the Government's target figure.

A shock Government handout of Pounds 575,000 to upgrade the tiny St Mary's Episcopal primary in Dunblane - one of the two opted out schools in Scotland - provoked fury in Stirling council. The sum was more than the council's entire capital programme for schools.

Norman Macleod, head of Bearsden Academy, and one of the most colourful figures in Scottish education, died after a short illness.

The blazer and the skirt could hold the answer to several school problems, according to West Dunbartonshire councillors, who wanted all pupils to wear uniform. It could improve school security, reduce truancy and instill pride in the school.

Meanwhile, the HAS was upsetting teachers. Outgoing president John Mitchell, head of Kilsyth Academy, called for a reconstituted General Teaching Council to remove clapped out and "awful" staff. He said: "As we know from bitter experience it is almost impossible to get rid of an individual who is a poor teacher but who has no other faults such as alcohol, drugs or an unhealthy liking for young boys."

The idea was not, however, embraced by the Commission on Scottish Education which produced 60 recommendations for improvements to pre-school, school and post-school education.

Boys doing badly was the theme of the HAS's 60th conference. Girls were outstripping boys at Standard grade and beyond. James Dalziel of Eastbank Academy in Glasgow pointed out that for every two credits girls achieved, boys got one. "It's getting worse year by year."

More uplifting news emerged from Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh where teachers were turning around its poor image. Research proved it was doing as well academically for local pupils as those who chose to go to other neighbouring secondaries through parental choice.

The possible end of 25 years' automatic acceptance of mixed-ability teaching in primary and secondary schools was signalled by HMI recommendations, which backed setting in its Achievement for All report. Scottish Office ministers sub-titled the report as "selection within schools", and the early indications from education authorities were of a firm thumbs-down, leading to a vigorous debate in our columns which continued for the rest of the year.

Disagreements also emerged among leading members of the GTC on the best way of assessing student teachers during their training placements in school. Mr Robertson listened to the discussion at the GTC's October meeting, the first time an education minister had attended.

Paisley University announced it was to join Glasgow University on the Dumfries campus of the proposed university in the south west. The Scottish National Party backed the move at its annual conference which then moved on to ditch support for devolved school management.

The year's recurring themes of early intervention and school effectiveness came together in Aberdeen's decision to reintroduce group screening into its primary schools from next August. At the other end of the spectrum, standards required in the Higher exam were pronounced not to have fallen in a research council study of four subjects over a seven-year period.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association decided to take its legal battle on equal pay to the House of Lords, a costly action on which it is being financially supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission. Another battle opened up at an industrial tribunal where two former lecturers at Borders College are fighting compulsory redundancies.

Glasgow's year, which began with resource problems, moved on to a war against underachievement as councillors embarked on a radical review to stem the drift away from the city's schools.

Lord Cullen's long-awaited report on the Dunblane shootings recommended a tightening up of school security and the vetting of adults working with young children. The TESS estimate that security improvements could cost Pounds 12 million annually proved close to Mr Forsyth's announcement in December that he was providing Pounds 33.3 million over three years.

Directors of education issued their grimmest warnings yet on the parlous state of their budgets. And The TESS survey of all 32 education authorities revealed officials had been asked to prepare cuts of Pounds 100 million. Scottish Office figures continued to show that Scotland had the edge over England, where spending per pupil is put at Pounds 77.80 less than in Scotland.

The announcement that Moray House Institute of Education was to merge with Edinburgh University came as a bombshell - certainly to Heriot-Watt University with whom it had a six-year relationship. "I am paid to make my institution flourish," Gordon Kirk, the Moray House principal, declared.

November opened with more gloomy news as a review by the pensions agency appeared to make it almost impossible for local authorities to pay for teachers' early retirement. The National Audit Office had drawn attention earlier in the year to the strains being imposed on the national pensions fund as a result of the rapid rise in premature retirements.

Troubled classrooms was the theme in Edinburgh as the head of Hailesland Primary was forced to resign in the wake of parental accusations of bullying and an enquiry which revealed lax management.

The annual report on achievement in education and training confirmed that Scotland remains as far off reaching its national targets as ever. "I fear we have reached a plateau," Professor John Ward, chairman of the Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets, stated.

The EIS launched its pre-election campaign which will challenge Labour's education policies as much as the Conservatives'. Mrs Liddell told an EIS conference she was on the side of "the good classroom teacher".

A survey by the EIS's further education section revealed heightened stress, lower morale and slipping standards in colleges under pressure to get "bums on seats." In a separate revelation, The TESS disclosed that SVQs had a long way to go before winning widespread acceptance among employers.

Another survey, this time by parents' leaders, claimed that computing in secondary schools was in a mess with outdated equipment and no money to replace machines.

The main spotlight, however, fell on maths and science as an international report showed important weaknesses in the teaching of the subjects. The report placed Scotland low in the league tables of comparisons with other countries. England had a superior performance in science and was level in maths.

Mixed messages emerged in the annual tables of school exam results, which led to the usual disagreement about their value. The focus on the results forced Glasgow to redouble its efforts to lift itself off the bottom of the league.

There was fury and cynicism as Mr Forsyth appeared to bend the rules in favour of the opted out St Mary's primary in Dunblane, which was exempted from the Government's policy for local authorities that pay rises must be paid for in "efficiency gains".

Directors of education, at their annual conference, spoke of scrapping the system of secondary promoted posts. Their new president, John Travers, who is national publicity chief for the Higher Still reforms, argued the August 1998 implementation deadline should be postponed. The EIS told The TESS conference on Higher Still that "many teachers simply do not believe they will be teaching 'Higher Still' in 1998".

Her Majesty's chief inspector, Ron Tuck, who led the post-16 programme, emerged to take over as chief executive of the new Scottish Qualifications Authority from January 6. And David Eaglesham leaped from the SSTA's number three position to take over as the union's elected general secretary.

A study by Sydney Wood of Northern College unmasked gaps in pupils' knowledge of Scottish history. More than a third of around 3,000 fourth-year pupils questioned thought Scotland was united with England "because English forces conquered it".

Months of pressure finally paid off as Mr Forsyth announced a Pounds 9 million grant to boost early reading and counting skills as part of a drive to tackle "failing schools". It came in the same week as the local authorities claimed they were facing a Government cutback following the public spending statement for 1997-98. The school costs tables revealed school spending had risen for the second year running, hiding a myriad of local variations.

Special school instructors won their tribunal appeal to be paid the same as teachers, leaving the door open for another likely court battle next year as the authorities appeal.

The year ended appropriately with another back to basics story revealing the success of a new phonics teaching method which had produced "startling gains" for P1 children.

And finallyI a seasonal tale from Easter. "See that baby Jesus that was born last Christmas," asked a product of 5-14. "How's he daein'?"

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today