Now is the time to be creative

20th February 2009 at 00:00
As 26 councils fix their budgets, education has had to tighten its belt

Education spending in the coming year is going to be at a standstill at best and suffer a real terms cut at worst, a survey by The TESS reveals.

With six councils still to fix their budgets as we went to press, planned spending on education in the new financial year beginning in April will be pound;4.4 billion. That compares with pound;4.2 billion this year, but the average increase will be just 2.8 per cent once pay and price rises have been stripped out.

Aberdeen - perhaps predictably, given its pound;60 million financial deficit - has had pound;1 million cut from education spending with a further pound;3.6 million swallowed up by pay and price awards.

Virtually no education budget reflects the full 5.9 per cent increase allocated by Finance Secretary John Swinney in the recent Scottish Government settlement for authorities.

With implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence due to begin in schools from August, secondary heads have expressed grave concerns that some authorities are cutting continuing professional development budgets. "This puts us on the back foot when councils should be trying to be very positive," warned Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

Education directors have highlighted a number of significant pressures on their budgets: rising energy costs, staff pensions and teachers' superannuation and out-of-authority placements in residential schools.

Some authorities - mainly those led by an SNP administration - have allocated additional money towards reducing class sizes in P1-3, but a number of others have said they cannot afford to do so at present.

David Cameron, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said the picture varied across authorities, but added: "Our feeling is that education and children's services have been relatively well-protected."

In the future, he said, councils needed to start looking more creatively at how to reduce budget pressures. He claimed that potential savings could be made to CPD budgets, such as reducing the cost of venues and catering, without affecting the volume or quality of the activities involved: "The kind of CPD we need is to ensure that staff have the time to talk to each other, to reflect, to discuss, and to build on existing practice."

A Scottish Government spokesman said it was providing local government with "record levels of funding" - pound;11.2 billion for the period 2008-09 and pound;11.8 billion for 2009-10, an increase of 5.9 per cent. "The concordat also enables local authorities to keep their efficiency savings and reinvest them in frontline services," he said. "This should release over pound;1 billion over the three years of this spending review period that local authorities can invest in their priorities - which we would expect to include schools and teachers."

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