On the high road to more money

30th June 2000 at 01:00
IN NORTH Carolina motorists are often stopped and spot-fined for speeding.

Zealous cops with children in grade school are aware that speeding fines go directly to support the state's education service.

While not suggesting that this is a desirable or transferable practice, the Scottish Parliament needs to take the arithmetic of the McCrone package seriously. pound;260 million is a modest amount anyway in the context of bringing proper parity with other professions to Scottish teaching. The Executive has to grasp this nettle and show some leadership and imagination.

It is interesting to speculate on what would be the result of another Souter type referendum among the lieges, should the Educational Institute of Scotland come across a spare tame industrialist millionaire.

How about: "In your view, should the Holyrood project be scrapped and the Scottish Parliament stay on the Mound, with the savings used to fund better pay for Scotland's teachers? Tick yes or no." There are, of course, more subtle ways of redirecting resources. Creative thinking and an overwhelming sense of priority make fertile partners when needs must.

In England, David Blunkett's plan to ring-fence school budgets and limit the intervention of local authorities is being well received by headteachers. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers is on record as saying that few schools will have qualms about the fact that the Government is moving as close as it possibly can to making all schools quasi-grant maintained.

Here, enticing possibilities can also be glimpsed at the prospect of Gordon Brown's largesse finding its way direct to schools. The same possibilities are seen in action at Jordanhill, Scotland's one remaining grant-maintained school, incidentally much sought-after by Labour politicians. But the allure of extra Scottish cash in the heidie's hand has tended to be clouded by suspicion, ideological objection and vested intrests.

Tony Gavin, the headteacher of St Margaret's Academy in Livingston, has put his finger unerringly on the spot, however. He points out that with the Chancellor's pound;89 million current windfall for Scottish schools going through local authorities, the reality for most schools is spending below the levels inherited three years ago.

Despite various funds for targeted initiatives and the parental expectations which these arouse, council management of key budget areas means that Mr Gavin's school's budget is actually down by pound;70,000. Many other Scottish heads agree that substantial sums are just not finding their way into schools, and that job preservation still comes before the chalkface.

In England, a proposal to separate school and education authority budgets is currently being floated: symptomatic of the fact that the two education systems are veering apart ever more widely. Indeed, the (English) Labour party's currently leaked policy document announces an end to all mixed-ability teaching in state secondary schools, given a second term. Incidentally, the document also states that the comprehensive system has "not delivered what its advocates hoped for".

It is similar with teachers' remuneration. Pay levels for Scottish teachers, a la McCrone, move in the right direction. But divergence with England is increasing, with plans for "superheads" earning pound;100,000 and more primary heads breaking the pound;50,000 barrier. The reaction of the EIS to this was predictable: the superhead initiative is seen as part of a growing tendency to run schools as businesses.

But surely teachers will not ultimately accept serious differences between what they and colleagues in the south are offered? Neither would the medical or legal professions. Teaching in Scotland must be a competitive career, and unless the Executive puts its shoulder to this particular wheel, marked differentials could in the future pave a broad highway south.

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