Lock up your valuables - the raids have begun

21st February 2014 at 00:00

"Unless it's nailed down, we're taking it" appears to be the attitude of Scottish councils, most of which agreed their budgets last week. Or as the finance convenor in Angus put it, if it's not a statutory requirement it will be subject to "a stringent assessment".

Clearly nursery teachers failed the test, which is why Angus has scrapped the role, as we reveal on pages 6-7.

At the end of last month, a High Court ruling in Glasgow made it clear that there was nothing in law to say that nursery children were entitled to have access to a teacher.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, warned that there was likely to be a trend of cash-strapped councils getting rid of teachers unless the Scottish government backed up its promise that every nursery-aged child should have access to one with legislation.

Certainly, the message coming from education directors is that all the easy cuts have been made and the savings are set to become increasingly radical.

Already there have been calls for a debate on whether education should remain under the control of 32 Scottish authorities - and they have come from directors of education.

Some councils were now so thinly staffed that it was virtually impossible for them to be effective, Bruce Robertson of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland wrote in TESS last month ("Let's join the Middle Ages", 31 January). There was also a worrying lack of specialist knowledge in some quarters, he said, with the post of director being downgraded in some authorities and disappearing in others.

Education directors are in the same boat as nursery teachers, it transpires - the role is not a statutory requirement.

Cutting teaching posts more generally is another solution to the funding crisis that is likely to be mooted in the future. Ken Greer, the newly retired director of education at Fife Council, recently wrote in a report that "across councils" there was a "growing realisation" that the agreement with the government to maintain teacher numbers in line with student numbers "needs to be revisited".

In the Scottish Borders, reducing teacher numbers is seen as the only way to achieve the savings that schools are expected to make over the next four years, education officials have said, admitting that #163;6.2 million would equate to "a significant reduction" in staff.

Back in Fife, one of the more radical solutions under consideration is to cut 47 headteacher posts, grouping primaries, secondaries or a mix of both under an "executive headteacher".

One education director told TESS that whenever a council made a move like this, other authorities contemplated whether it would be viable to do the same. Presumably Angus' decision to get rid of all of its nursery teachers by August will now be scrutinised. Whether or not it becomes a trend remains to be seen. But be sure that there are many difficult decisions coming down the line.

emma.seith@tess.co.uk.

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