Schools will have to put up with fewer teaching posts in order to preserve "all that's valued" in education, leading officials have warned.
Reducing the number of teachers in Scotland is the only way to save the vast sums of money education departments are being asked to cut from their budgets, last week's annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) heard.
The directors' stance puts them at odds with the Government, which has demanded in its deal with local authorities that teacher numbers be protected.
Other cost-cutting moves favoured by ADES members included an end to universal services, such as free fruit and school meals, and the closure of urban and rural schools.
The directors also revealed that they were nervous about the way in which the review of the 2001 national teachers' agreement had been launched, with preconditions including a freeze on entry to the chartered teacher scheme.
They warned there was a danger of returning to the 1980s and 1990s when industrial relations in education were at an "all-time low".
There were signs collegiality was already "beginning to crack", said Terry Lanagan, director of education in West Dunbartonshire.
But it was not just the possibility of industrial action that worried him. Curriculum for Excellence could be put in jeopardy if Scotland's largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, withdrew its co- operation, he said.
The ADES conference was aptly named "Hard Times - Tough Choices: The Leadership Challenge". One director, whose anonymity had been guaranteed, summed up the mood: "We have to change teachers' terms and conditions - it's the only way to make the cuts we're having to make. Without that, it will be the end of all that's valued."
Teachers should spend more time in front of children for the period they were in school, added an area education officer who criticised the limit of 22.5 hours of class-contact time per week enshrined in the teachers' agreement.
"Maybe we want to think about a model based on Laing O'Rourke rather than Rok," he said, referring to an earlier presentation by businessman Patrick Macdonald.
Mr Macdonald had told the conference that building contractor Laing O'Rourke had halved its workforce in order to cope with the economic downturn, while rival firm Rok failed to make appropriate changes and collapsed.
Another director admitted to being "disappointed" by the Government settlement. He argued for a wider variety of educators in schools.
Staff in the voluntary sector had a lot to offer but they were "easy people to swipe at", he continued. He admitted to cutting back on the voluntary sector's services to save money, but added that councils did not support children, families and communities by having teachers in schools.
If trade union practices were getting in the way of what was best for children, that had to be addressed, said the director of Barnardo's Scotland, Martin Crewe, who also addressed the conference.
His organisation had undergone some "radical" staffing changes, including the replacement of social workers with less highly-qualified staff, which had allowed some contracts to be delivered for 20 per cent less, he said. "Quality does not suffer," Mr Crewe insisted.
Education was a political football, said one leading official, describing the issue as "the elephant in the room".
Directors could come up with radical and imaginative ideas but politicians and parents simply would not be able to stomach them, another director said.
In his speech at the conference, Education Secretary Michael Russell conceded that teacher numbers had been artificially inflated in the past, without any thought for the consequences. However, it was important that they were maintained now in order to prevent talent from going to waste, he argued.
"There are young people who can contribute greatly to education in Scotland who, frankly, we've not done the right thing by," Mr Russell said.
BUDGET FOR CHANGE
Education directors think heads should be given more freedom, but the majority do not think they should have more money.
An electronic vote at the ADES conference revealed that 77 per cent of delegates agreed heads should have greater leadership responsibilities and autonomy, but only 42 per cent thought that the devolution of budgets and resources would lead to better outcomes for students and young people.
This was bad news for Education Secretary Michael Russell, who announced at the conference a review of the present system of devolved school management and is known to be keen to "empower" headteachers (TESS, November 26).
Education directors have not set their faces against change, however. Only 9 per cent agreed the status quo in governance arrangements would see them through the challenges ahead, while 92 per cent agreed there should be fewer education authorities, and 94 per cent agreed there were more efficient ways to manage education and children's services budgets and resources.
The vote also revealed that early years and early intervention remain priorities for education directors. There was also some good news for Mr Russell, with 97 per cent of delegates accepting that Curriculum for Excellence could be delivered with shrinking resources.
Click file on right-hand side of story to view vote results , under heading "Attached files"