Early Christmas for crumbling schools

8th December 2000 at 00:00
JACK McConnell, the Education Minister and almsman, has handed schools a pre Christmas cash bonus for minor repairs, maintenance and equipment. The average primary will shortly receive around pound;5,000 and the average secondary around pound;15,000 as part of the pound;17.2 million boost for school spending following last month's pre-Budget statement by Chancellor Gordon Brown. The money has to be spent between now and the end of March.

Mr McConnell delayed the announcement about how Scotland would carve up its share of national spending until he had talks with local authorities and teachers' associations.

Schools will benefit directly south of the border. But in line with Scotland's different priorities, councils here will retain a measure of control over spending. They will be allowed to direct more resources to the most needy schools, although Mr McConnell has insisted all must benefit.

Revealing his seasonal generosity to the Parliament's education, culture and sport committee on Wednesday, Mr McConnell said each authority's allocation was based on pound;2,800 for each school, plus pound;10 per primary pupil, pound;15 per secondary pupil and pound;30 per special school pupil. The amount spent on individual schools will be determined by councils.

The minister emphasised, however, that authorities should publish their decisions and be held accountable for them locally by teachers and parents.

Glasgow swallows the largest share of the national handout with nearly pound;1.7m, while Orkney will receive pound;120,000.

"This winter we can perhaps see some of the more minor repairs and maintenance and equipment needs of schools deal with quickly in this academic year in a way that's not always possible in the public sector," Mr McConnell told MSPs.

He believed his announcement chimed with his statement last month on the five national priorities for Scottish education that has been warmly welcomed by authorities and teachers' unions. It was the role of ministers to set broad priorities and leave local authorities and schools to provide the details.

"One of the national priorities is improving the learning environment and that can be made reality if we can get the right balance between a national framework and local decision-making and individual schools using that framework for best effect in their local area," the minister said.

Although not opposing the decision, Mike Russell, the SNP's shadow minister, described the pound;17.2m as a "drop in the ocean in terms of what is required in terms of school infrastructure".

Mr McConnell replied that authorities would have real increases in spending in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Danny McCafferty, the local authorities' spokesman on education and children, welcomed the freedom to spend in line with local priorities. "It is worth noting, and commendable, that the minister has allowed us the flexibility in how the money is to be spent.

"Councils would have had difficulty in spending it all on new projects in the current financial year. By drawing forward projects from next year and in other ways, I hope we can avoid councils and schools being forced to throw money at things just to get it spent. That would be at odds with sensible planning and best value," he said.

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