Education has been protected for too long, warns council boss

12th November 2010 at 00:00
Analysis of budgetary pressures by Stirling's chief executive fuels calls for reopening of teachers' agreement

Education has been protected from cuts for too long, the chief executive of Stirling Council warned last week in a foretaste of local authorities' budget plans.

Bob Jack echoed the thinking of many council chief executives when he told a children's services conference that teachers do not spend enough time with pupils.

His hard-hitting analysis of budgetary pressures has added fuel to calls for the once-sacrosanct 2001 teachers' agreement to be reopened.

Mr Jack told Children in Scotland's annual conference that schools could not show the results to match the high levels of spending they had received in recent years. In future, only work that achieved the best results for children deserved funding - and it would not necessarily be provided by teachers.

Education, like social work and procurement, had been one of the "great beneficiaries" of ring-fencing. Making savings, which other local authority services had been doing for a long time, was something that ring-fenced services "frankly haven't had to think too hard about", he said.

The national education spend had risen by 43 per cent since devolution and teachers' wages had gone up by 23 per cent. But, Mr Jack asked, "Have we seen a 43 per cent increase in productivity or attainment or real outcomes?"

Education could no longer expect special treatment as authorities looked for savings: "There are no no-go areas. We have to look at absolutely everything we do."

He questioned the logic of teachers being obliged to teach only 21.5 (sic - it is in fact 22.5) hours a week when children were entitled to 25 hours of teaching a week, and pointed to "inflexibility and hidden costs" in the 2001 teachers' agreement, which improved teachers' pay and conditions.

His comments came a week after Education Secretary Michael Russell told the Scottish Parliament's education committee it was time to review the McCrone settlement - comments which, The TESS understands, have since led to urgent talks with irate Educational Institute of Scotland officials.

Mr Jack said there needed to be a fundamental shift in priorities from service-providers, such as teachers, to those supposed to benefit from their expertise: "We need to make sure that the spending is going to the end user."

In an echo of Prime Minister David Cameron's "big society" mantra, he said authorities needed to "mobilise citizens and communities" to work with them, although he was concerned that public services had become "the whipping boy for anything that goes wrong".

Mr Jack preferred to talk of "efficiencies" rather than cuts, and one approach was to identify areas where outside experts were more effective than teachers.

Conference delegate Karen Ward Boyd, of the Holywood Trust, which supports disadvantaged young people in Dumfries and Galloway, said she knew of projects that had run as trials for eight years because mainstream funding was unavailable.

She asked Mr Jack if there was an argument for freeing up some of the protected teacher budget for other projects, meaning "not doing away with teachers", but "more creativity" in approaches to education.

"That's part of what we have to seriously look at," Mr Jack replied.

The recent comprehensive spending review had not been as dire for the public sector as predicted, Mr Jack stressed, and projects that worked - such as the Big Noise initiative which is creating full symphony orchestras from children in Stirling's Raploch scheme - could expect to be expanded.

But funding would now only be targeted at work which made a "real difference".

Trade-off over class contact time, p7.

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