Figures are not as shocking as they seem

High life for school chiefs," blasted the front page of one of Tuesday's tabloids; "Airmiles Andy and a huge new travel bill," echoed the picture heading beside it, of the Duke of York. Elevated company indeed for the Education Scotland staff indicted in the main headline. Whether you are a banker, a politician, a royal - or now, it seems, any civil servant - the scandal is the same. Or so they would have us believe.

This was the news that hit the streets the day after the publication of Education Scotland's first annual report (page 5). What it didn't tell you was that the average salary for an employee with the national education agency was pound;33,792 - the same as a teacher on point 5 of the salary scale - or that the senior directors on pound;65,000-pound;75,000 earn less than many heads.

Nor did it reveal, more seriously, that the number of staff fell in the course of its merger from 538 to 378 and the total budget was down from pound;37.7 million to pound;32.6 million, and is to fall a further pound;5 million this year.

That wouldn't have sold so many newspapers. It might, however, have alerted readers to the precarious situation where drastic cuts to the staffing of our central education agency are being inflicted at a time when it has to help teachers across the country to deliver Curriculum for Excellence and the new National qualifications.

In one paragraph, Education Scotland was lambasted for having "lavished more than pound;10 million on travel, consultants, conferences and external advisers"; in the next, it was scorned for its "flimsy" performance over CfE.

So how cheap can an event like the annual Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow - the biggest CPD event of the year, which reaches 4,500 teachers in two days - come? The danger is that too many cuts damage what has been one of the finest national conferences around, with outstanding international contributions. And there are local and national conferences to support teachers throughout the year. Total bill: pound;1.7 million.

How frugally can you arrange study trips that allow Scottish teachers to travel abroad and learn from the best practice in other countries? These are designed to widen horizons and inspire the new ideas and fresh thinking that are required for CfE. And how cheaply can you send HMI teams to do 500 inspections across Scotland? Total travel bill: pound;400,000.

Are these figures so shocking? It would appear that the person who came out best was Bernard McLeary, the former chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland, who departed with a nice pension, bonus and pay-off of pound;91,000 (less than one year's salary). But let's keep things in perspective: this is the week that the boss of Barclays was fighting for a pound;20 million pay-off.

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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