SCOTLAND'S 32 education authorities sliced pound;23 million from their budgets for 2000-01 last week. A 0.82 per cent cut from the pound;2.7 billion total is much less than had been feared but councils, unions and headteachers none the less united in a chorus of disapproval over the Scottish Executive's attitude to spending.
The Educational Institute of Scotland has convened a meeting of local association secretaries a week today (Friday) with council funding near the top of the agenda. The union's annual conference in June will be asked to step up pressure on MSPs to demand a review of local government finance.
The conference call will come from members in Aberdeenshire, where the biggest reduction in education spending has taken place - pound;4.3 million, or 3.3 per cent of the pound;126 million education budget. "We blame the Scottish Executive," David McGinty, the Aberdeenshire secretary, said.
The union and the council both say the Government's grant settlement does not recognise the area's rising population. They now face negotiations to "vary temporarily" national agreements affecting supply cover, planned activity times, parents' meetings, in-service and staff development. The aim is to save pound;400,000.
Mr McGinty said there was "increasing frustration" with the concept of the Excellence Fund, the pound;377 million pot of money for key Government priorities over three years.
"This money is part of the Government's spending guideline for each authority," Mr McGinty said. "So to get money for social inclusion and the other priorities, councils are having to cut back on their core budgets.
"It makes absolutely no economic or educational sense that we are having money poured into after-school clubs while at the same time losing our visiting specialist teachers."
Aberdeenshire is by no means typical, however. Twelve authorities - Angus, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Inverclyde, Orkney, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland and South Lanarkshire - claim they have kept their hands off education budgets, while cuts in other authorities range from 0.23 per cent in the Western Isles to 2.4 per cent in South Ayrshire.
Despite this, however, it is clear that many have had to trim back on enhanced staffing allocations, devolved school budgets and staff development, which is causing alarm. "It is ironc that, at a time when the Excellence Fund is giving us over 50 additional posts for classroom assistants to assist teachers, our authority is removing a number of teaching posts from primary and secondary schools," Drew Morrice, EIS secretary in North Lanarkshire, said.
Donald Matheson, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said heads now have serious concerns at the levels of funding flowing into core secondary school budgets.
"We are even more anxious this year than we were in 1999," he told the association's spring conference in Airth on Tuesday.Mr Matheson said heads would be campaigning for an urgent review of funding in the hope of finding a formula to determine what gets through to school budgets. "We have virtually a national curriculum and national expectations of how standards in schools should rise. We do not have a transparent or educationally defensible mechanism for the equitable devolution of resources from the Executive to local authorities and from local authorities to schools."
There are also worries over the cumulative effects of four years of cuts. East Dunbartonshire estimates education has lost pound;5 million in the past five years, while Argyll and Bute puts the shortfall at pound;7.5 million.
The Scottish Executive, by contrast, continues to point to the Excellence Fund.
It says authorities have budgeted to spend 8 per cent more on education in the current financial year, although this includes the first year of the Excellence Fund cash.
Norman Murray, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, called on the Executive to stop ring-fencing excellence funding and to trust local authorities. Ministers should "move away from control of inputs to monitoring outcomes, recognising every council's individual circumstances", Mr Murray said.
SERVICES AT RISK.
* pound;790,000 out of devolved school budgets (Aberdeen).
* pound;733,000 from 50 per cent cut in visiting specialists (Aberdeenshire).
* pound;205,000 from reduced staffing standards (Argyll and Bute).
* pound;479,000 cutback on enhanced staffing levels (East Dunbartonshire).
* pound;378,000 saving from spending less on teaching staff (North Lanarkshire).
* pound;350,000 less for devolved school budgets (West Lothian).
* Higher music tuition charges in East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and Stirling.