My understanding of the Government's draft budget is very simple. Local councils and education are to see a small cash increase in their budgets. The effect of salary rises and increases in the prices of goods and services (most notably energy) will turn that increase into a real terms reduction in funding. Politicians will argue about whether or not it is an increase; in real terms, it is a reduction.
We all know about the state of the country's finances, and the draft budget presents few surprises. I believe the Government has done what it can, with the resources available to it, to protect education and other frontline services. That said, we are left with some significant problems to deal with. At a time of significant change in Scottish education, there will be exhortations to do more with less.
Perhaps the time is ripe for a re-evaluation of what is crucial for the success of our education system and what is not. Government, local authorities and schools need to have a close look at everything they do if Scottish education is to come out the other side of this economic downturn in good shape. "Footering" round the edges with bans on photocopying and CPD are likely to be detrimental to the service and unlikely to make the savings required.
One option to kick-start the process would be to offer all teachers and promoted staff who are less than two years from retirement the option of leaving early. This would have costs for local authorities, but these would be more than offset by the recruitment of new teachers at the bottom of the salary scale and would have the knock-on positive effect of bringing into employment trained but unemployed teachers. It would, at least, give us a chance of maintaining teacher numbers at their current levels and better enable schools to get on with the task in hand - implementing the new curriculum for the benefit of Scotland's children.
Greg Dempster, general secretary, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland.