Get ready for lots of rods for lots of backs

18th February 2011 at 00:00

Budget setting is too bland a term for what most of Scotland's 32 local authorities have pushed through. This is the beginning of fundamental, perhaps irreversible, change in the nation's educational landscape.

Teachers may have received some protection, but the muttering is already beginning that even more indigestible cuts lie ahead next year. Scottish Borders chief executive David Hume has claimed that compulsory redundancies would be a sign of a local authority's "abject failure"; lots of rods are being set up for lots of backs.

This month's events have revealed that nothing in Scottish education can be considered sacrosanct. There is an almost Dickensian feel to stark edicts commanding removal of free milk and toys. Formerly under- appreciated services such as additional support and music, who had hoped Curriculum for Excellence would ensure more enlightened approaches, are finding their soft underbellies exposed again.

There might be more sympathy for local authorities, in the face of huge global economic pressures and a council-tax freeze, if they were not so desperate to hide what they are doing. Obfuscatory language such as "schools management de-layering" or "reduction in employee costs due to restructuring" does not help (that's if employees and taxpayers can even find the relevant budget documents in local authorities' labyrinthine websites).

The next question is who will be blamed: the SNP for clinging to its cherished class-size pledge - which increasingly looks like deckchair- arranging on the Titanic - and its council-tax freeze; Labour for its stewardship of the UK economy on the way to the 2008 meltdown; or the Tories and Lib Dems for setting the tone from Westminster for swift and drastic cuts?

Perhaps all of the above will get an electoral kicking, precipitating another surge for minority parties and independents come May's Holyrood elections.

This is a timely moment to remind readers that all of Holyrood's would-be education secretaries can be grilled at a TESS hustings - http:bit.lyTESSdebate - in Edinburgh on 3 March. There will be few more important opportunities.

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