Scottish education is facing its most serious crisis for 20 years because of "chronic underfunding" and the Government's obsession with the free-market philosophy, the STUC says. A statement issued on Monday called for more investment and a temporary halt to the Higher Still exam reforms.
Grahame Smith, the STUC's assistant secretary, said education had to be a top priority for whichever party won the general election. In its statement, the STUC points out that schools have been closed, staff lost, class sizes risen and specialist provision reduced. Budgets for books and equipment have been eroded and maintenance spending slashed, allowing buildings to deteriorate.
The STUC adds: "Education authorities have been forced to make cuts in non-statutory provision such as community education, pre-five education, development services, quality assurance and other services which, while non-statutory themselves, directly support the statutory service. Some have been forced to introduce charges for pre-school education and instrumental education.
"School meal charges have increased resulting in real hardship for many families. The situation is no different in further and higher education. In FE, the limits on bursary funds have meant the exclusion of students from courses. The prospect of college mergers is coming ever closer."
In the post-school sector, the STUC says hardship has risen because of student loans. "Such hardship," it maintains, "will only intensify if students are required to pay tuition and registration fees as some have proposed. A more likely consequence is a reduction in access to higher education for students from working-class backgrounds, from mature students and other non-traditional entrants without the financial means."
In its spending priorities, the STUC calls for an end to nursery vouchers. Funding should instead be made available for councils to provide for all three and four-year-olds. It wants class sizes reduced in primaries, secondaries, colleges and universities and extra resources for disruptive pupils. Properly funded alternatives should be available for pupils experiencing problems in mainstream schools.
The STUC also believes there should be a moratorium on Higher Still reforms until a "thorough assessment" has been made of the financial implications.
Meanwhile, the requirement for efficiency savings in FE colleges should be removed and the Pounds 7 million cut in the higher education budget restored. The statement adds: "There should be an expansion in the bursary funds available to colleges and sufficient flexibility to ensure that potential students are not denied access to courses."