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Unions turn up heat on ministers

Clear signs that the Labour Government will remain on trial after awful August + emerged at the reconvened annual congress of the STUC in Glasgow. Ministers + were warned that the welfare-to-work programme and their stance on educational + standards were not meeting with universal acclaim. And there was strong + condemnation of the "ill-considered and regressive" response to the Dearing + report on higher education.The congress, cut short because of the general + election, heard that many of the young people at whom welfare-to- work was + aimed considered it to be just another job scheme. Mark Elder, on behalf of + the STUC youth conference, said: "People are going to be trapped. They are + going to be locked into a tight space, with nowhere to turn and no one to help + them. So it is not surprising to find that their perception of welfare-to-work + is 'different name, same game'."Brian Wilson, the Education and Industry + Minister, warned the national launch of the programme last week that the policy+ would encounter cynicism because of failed attempts in the past to tackle + youth unemployment, and said the word "scheme" should be banished from the + discussion. Mr Elder's verdict was: "It's another YTS, another Skillseekers, + another con."The youth wing's resolution, which was approved, gave the policy a+ general welcome but took exception to the withdrawal of benefit if 18 to + 25-year-olds refused a job with an employer, placement with the voluntary + sector, work with an environmental task force, or were not in full-time + education or training. Young people would simply accept the benefit penalties,+ Mr Elder said. Ian McCalman, president of the Educational Institute of + Scotland, congratulat ed the Government on finding extra money for education in+ the Budget, ending opting out in Scotland, axing the assisted places scheme + and redirecting the money into reducing class sizes, abolishing nursery + vouchers and withdrawing compulsion from secondary testing and teacher + appraisal.But Mr McCalman said these measures had to be seen in the context of + massive cuts amounting to #163;150 million from education budgets over the + past two years. "Supplies to schools have been cut, technology has become + outdated and not replaced, charges have been introduced and increased for + school meals, music instruction and nursery provision," he said.The loss of + 1,500 teaching jobs had led to larger classes, less subject choice, less + co-operative teaching, less learning support and less English as a second + language. "It is difficult not to be cynical about calls for higher standards + against this background, " Mr McCalman said. "I can think of no other aspect of+ the economy where it is expected to achieve higher standards of output without+ commensurate levels of investment, unless it be in sweated labour + workshops."The EIS won backing for its motion calling for further increases in + capital expenditure and full funding for current and new developments. Mr + McCalman said the Government's commitment to inherited spending levels would + mean "a further crisis of funding".The Association of University Teachers + (Scotland) also found support for an emergency motion which attacked the + extension of student loans to tuition fees and the end of maintenance grants. + Peter Breeze of Glasgow University, the association's honorary secretary, said + the move would more than double student debt while doing nothing to solve the + funding crisis in higher education because every penny raised between now until+ the next general election would go towards setting up the new loan system.

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