Honesty needed about education budget

13th February 2009 at 00:00

Forget A Curriculum for Excellence, parent councils and a new national body: parents' number one concern at present is school funding and the cuts that they can see happening. The letter from Rory Mackenzie (TESS, January 23) spells out the reality of these cuts from a headteacher's perspective.

When it comes to funding, governments always focus on the overall size of the education budget - which has usually increased - while local authorities focus on the increased burdens which have the effect of turning that increase into a decrease. Politicians refuse to come clean and instead pass the buck back and forth until parents, pupils, teachers and authorities themselves are utterly confused. Some proper honesty would be appreciated.

One major factor in determining whether an authority has adequate funding is if it has a falling school roll. Per pupil funding from central government may well have gone up but, if the number of pupils has gone down, the global sum the authority receives will also have gone down. However, the authority will still have to fund the pupil capacity that it had in previous years because removing surplus spaces is a painful and slow business.

At a recent meeting, Edinburgh informed its parent council chairs that, out of some 35,000 primary school places, 9,000 were empty. It is possible to illustrate the impact of this, using 2006-07 figures when Edinburgh's average spend per primary pupil was Pounds 4,515. This would give a total spend for actual primary pupils of Pounds 117,390,000. However, as all 35,000 places (including the 9,000 empty ones) have to be maintained in terms of teachers and school space, the actual spend per pupil gets cut to about Pounds 3,354 in order to find the Pounds 30,186,000 needed to cover the cost of the empty places.

Obviously, it is naive to suggest that all of this could be released for use, but it would only take a small proportion to protect schools from the kind of cuts that Rory Mackenzie wrote about.

Judith Gillespie

development manager, Scottish Parent Teacher Council, Edinburgh.

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