Price may be more school sell-offs

The chalkface has been under Scottish Office attack on two fronts. Tory and then Labour neglect has amassed a shameful legacy of school decay.

Children are attempting to learn in damp and crumbling schools, while teachers are expected to work without sufficient books or equipment and, in the worst cases, without sufficient heat or light. The increased capital allocation is welcome, but it is only one step in the right direction while the Scottish schools repairs bill stands at more than Pounds 500 million.

In the light of the spending review, parents and teachers are entitled to ask the Scottish Secretary a rather testing question: will councils be encouraged to continue the lead taken by Labour in Falkirk and Glasgow and sell their schools to the private sector in order to bridge the funding gap?

The most valuable school asset - the class teacher - has also been woefully neglected. The accountant's jargon of "self-funding pay awards" appears as a clever buzz-word on paper to avoid budgeting for inflationary pay increases. But how, in practice, can you make a teacher "more efficient" or have greater "productivity"? Local authorities have found the only answer - fewer teachers (2,000 lost over the past three years) on lower pay.

The effects are a demoralised profession, teaching more pupils, often with a more limited curriculum. In a fit of Conservative "efficiency", Labour insists that teachers' pay should not be increased beyond the Government's inflation targets. So far, this has meant public sector pay has increased by only 2.6 per cent compared with an average of 6.2 per cent in the private sector.

How much longer does Tony Blair expect teachers to pay for his manifesto pledges through real-terms pay cuts?

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