The injection of an extra #163;1.3 billion into Scottish education announced by the Secretary of State this week has been widely welcomed both for the size of the package and the commitments within it.
The Government's latest "new deal" for the three years from 1999 includes an extra #163;629 million for schools, #163;138 million for pre-school education, #163;91 million for child care, #163;214 million for further education and #163;230 million for the universities.
But the additional money, included in the Chancellor's statement following the Treasury's "comprehensive spending review", is partly dependent on holding down pay increases for teachers and other public sector employees to inflationary levels, and on funding any excesses through continuing "efficiency gains".
This is likely to put pressure on education authorities, particularly as local government has also been a beneficiary of the review. An extra #163;840 million is going into council coffers, with local education spending set to rise by 6.4 per cent next year, 4.3 per cent the year after and 4 per cent by 2002.
Fred Forrester, depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, has already given notice teachers will expect to see some of the cash going into their pay packets.
The education authorities, however, will undoubtedly want to pursue their long-standing agenda of securing a new teachers' pay and conditions package which gives the authorities more room for manoeuvre.
They are now powerfully backed by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who made it clear in his statement this week that the Government's commitment to extra investment was "in return for modernisation and reform".
Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, has already signalled his desire for a classroom shake-up that would reward good teachers who do not opt for careers in management. This was reinforced last week by the Scottish Office proposals for continuous professional development, which suggested a link between pay, performance and qualifications.
Mr Dewar may well look favourably on a more generous pay deal above Treasury norms, provided these objectives are met. Negotiations between the unions and authorities will begin later this year, after the conclusion of the millennium review of pay and conditions which the two sides have been jointly conducting.
Parents will support improved pay levels, according to Alison Kirby, convener of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. "The cuts in staffing and fall in applicants for teacher training require teaching to be made more attractive to good, well-qualified graduates," she said. "This means not just paying good salaries but, for example, providing time for teachers to undertake proper staff development and other duties. "
Elizabeth Maginnis, the education authorities' leader, would not be tempted into "negotiating in public" but said the pay discussions following the millennium review would be a crucial test of whether the Government's agenda could be delivered.
Mrs Maginnis gave a particular welcome to the creation of 5,000 classroom assistants in primary schools, which will bring the ratio of adults to children in primaries to 1:15 by 2002. This will cost #163;66 million over the three years and will be overseen by a steering group of Scottish Office, education authority, union and parent representatives.
The assistants will be trained to a new work-based qualification. Mrs Maginnis said this would introduce a whole new category of paraprofessional into schools, which the authorities have been proposing for some time.
The evidence where such schemes have been piloted is that assistants release teachers for more focused teaching, Mrs Maginnis said. It also changes the nature of teaching by building in a team-teaching approach, which I predict will become the norm within the decade. The concept of edu-care, hitherto confined to the pre-school sector, is being brought into the classroom.
A local authority survey four years ago found that primary teachers spent on average 8 hours 14 minutes a week on non-teaching duties and secondary teachers spent 7 hours 58 minutes.
The EIS points out that, while welcome, the 5,000 assistants would cover only a third of Scotlands 15,000 primary classes. Mr Forrester also wants an assurance that assistants, rather than extra teachers, are not used to redeem the Governments pledge to reduce class sizes below 30 in the first three years of primary.
While there was a warm professional welcome for the Governments plans, its political opponents were more grudging. Donald Gorrie, the Liberal Democrats Scottish education spokesman, said the increased spending was not nearly as much as the Government claimed, and that the books are being balanced by holding down public sector pay.
The SNP seized on the disclosure that total Scottish Office spending would be #163;13.6 billion by 2002, #163;200 million less than the Tory administration allocated in 1994-95. But the Scottish Office points out that this represents a 15 per cent cash increase over the three years and a 6.8 per cent rise in real terms.