Services are axed by the throw of a dice

12th November 2010 at 00:00

At a time of cuts, cuts and more cuts, I wonder what it means to be a responsible citizen. Every day the media reports proposals to cut library hours, close swimming pools, increase class sizes, request nurses to work unpaid shifts and so on. The winter is shaping up to be marked by bitterness as people march to save public services, and disagreements over priorities cause trouble and strife.

Free university tuition fees; free prescriptions; free eye tests; free school meals for the poorest children; free bus passes for older people; or free personal care for the elderly. What should remain free and what should we pay for? In this fiendishly complex debate, it is hard for adults to be confident individuals, never mind youngsters.

pound;81 billion is to be shaved off UK Government spending in a gamble from Chancellor George Osborne that the private sector will sprinkle magic dust and save the day, although there is little evidence for that hope. A devolved Scotland can't be protected from the economic pain. As we brace ourselves in the crash position, policymakers muse on how they can get more for less and services are being axed by the throw of a dice.

As The TESS reported (October 22), the ring-fencing of the NHS budget will have an inevitable effect on finance for education. It is unthinkable that Scottish councils are facing an estimated spending black hole of pound;3.859 billion in cash terms over the next six years. Higher education is also being squeezed and, however successful learners might be, they can't find jobs which don't exist.

The main aspiration of Curriculum for Excellence is that pupils should be prepared for the world outside school so that they become integrated members of society. What kind of society might that be? Add to the bleakness caused by the deep cuts, the crazy behaviour of celebrities such as James Caan, the Dragons' Den star, who recently tried to buy a baby. He offered 100,000 rupees (approximately pound;750) to a poor family devastated by Pakistan's floods for their baby girl, saying she would have a better life with his childless brother.

In the same week, Wayne Rooney was apparently offered at least pound;200,000 a week to stay at Manchester United. It seems that being an effective contributor is a pretty tough task and preparing pupils for the world out there at the moment close to impossible. There is no clear vision.

We are fighting against a strong tide to promote the principles and values of Curriculum for Excellence. There is uncertainty about what life will be like in schools when the coffers are empty. Just how biting will the cuts prove to be? While money doesn't necessarily turn us into better teachers, finance for first-class continuing professional development is important. Equipment ages and textbooks require to be replaced and practical subjects must have materials to be able to function. Teachers are highly adept at juggling dwindling resources, but there is a point beyond which any further diminishing of the status quo will result in irreversible damage.

The Westminster government wields the scalpel. Meanwhile, we observe that there is plenty on our plates and none of it is money.

Marj Adams, teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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