TEACHERS are being urged to lobby the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to save its education work, a service that goes back 80 years.
The society's board, which meets next Wednesday to take a final decision, is proposing to close the education department to prune a pound;3.2 million deficit. The society's reserves, which have come to the rescue in the past, have been badly hit by the plunging stock market and the need to shore up its pension scheme.
Alan Carnegie, the SSPCA's education officer, has hit out at the proposal which he says undermines the whole ethos of the prevention of cruelty.
"Most of the cruelty we see is neglect and most of that stems from lack of knowledge or ignorance," Mr Carnegie said. "Promotion of kindness and prevention of cruelty is our mission statement, and it has previously been acknowledged by senior management that we are, at heart, an education society."
He added: "Once we have been to visit a school we are usually asked back."
Almost 30,000 pupils took part in outreach activities last year, covering areas such as pet care, pollution, wildlife, animals in farming and animal rights. There are also moves to spread the word in colleges and universities. A new departure, making greater use of information and communications technology, will see a teachers' pack going online.
Ironically, Mr Carnegie says, the ICT approach could be one of the reasons the outreach programme is under threat. "The powers that be believe that computers are a universal panacea," he said.
But he added: "We obviously believe that ICT has an important role to play in our efforts to spread the message as widely as possible. But I, and most education professionals, know that the human resource is the most valuable classroom resource of all."
Nine of the society's 13 animal welfare centres, some of which have classroom facilities, are also earmarked for closure, according to Mr Carnegie.
A spokesperson for the SSPCA said that the proposal did not involve axing the service completely, although the number of education officers would be reduced from five to two. Other headquarters staff, in communications, marketing and general administration, will be affected.
"I would stress that no final decisions have yet been taken," the spokesperson said.