October 6, 2008

Top Teacher Warns of Cash Crisis in Schools

By Eddie Barnes

Headteachers' leader says cash shortage damaging education

SCOTLAND'S primary and secondary schools are facing a cash crisis of unprecedented proportions which will cause serious damage to children's education over the next three years, according to the country's top headteacher.

Bill McGregor, the head of Kilmarnock Academy, has used his retirement as the general secretary of the Headteachers' Association to issue a devastating assessment of the plight of schools which, he says, have no choice but to order cutbacks in order to balance their books.

He says the UK Treasury is "the villain" for insisting on efficiency cuts, but that Scottish ministers too are to blame for having washed their hands of the crisis. He says education chiefs and headteachers have told him they cannot carry on without a major bailout.

Among the areas facing deep cuts are Aberdeen and Edinburgh. In Aberdeen, city chiefs admitted last week that they need to find GBP 50m of savings next year to avoid tumbling into the red. Education amounts to half of all council spending.

In Edinburgh, the city's education chief last night admitted that cuts in schools were inevitable, warning that "aspects of our service are going to suffer".

Among the areas vulnerable to cutbacks, according to McGregor, is the recruitment of new teaching staff, professional training for teachers, community education, and special small class groupings for pupils studying their Advanced Highers.

Newly qualified teachers are guaranteed a year's employment after teaching but figures show that only a quarter are now being kept on by heads.

McGregor airs his views in the headteachers' journal, Scottish Leader, in which he

attacks ministers for new policies such as the Curriculum for Excellence, and recruitment issues.

He adds: "Yet I believe that these issues pale into insignificance against the growing crisis in funding our educational system.

"The losers are our front line services where we have seen serious budget cuts affecting staffing and resources this year and clear indicators that the position will deteriorate further without national intervention in the next two years.

"Added to this is the wild card of rising inflation and the factor of rapidly increasing fuel costs which affect all our services. These factors all impact on the quality of teaching and learning in our schools and our ability to give our children the education system they deserve."

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, he added: "The Treasury are the real villains here for insisting on these efficiency savings. They are making demands of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Government is passing them on to schools. Whereas in the past local authorities did their best to safeguard front line services, they have now reached the point where they can't afford to do that any more.

"It is not that we didn't see it coming. Local authorities are now caught between a rock and a hard place. It is only going to get worse. This is year one of a three year funding cut. The Directors of Education I know say they can't do it. Local Authorities have stripped away all the fat. There is very little left to cut. They are coming to a crisis, there is no doubt about it."

McGregor singled out the fact that schools were now unable to keep on probationary teachers as a clear example of the chaos. He said: "For a long time we didn't have teachers looking for jobs. Now we have them, but the local authorities can't afford to pay them. It's ludicrous."

One leading education chief last night agreed they were heading for a major problem. Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, convener of education at City of Edinburgh Council, said: "Undoubtedly we face a serious funding crisis in Edinburgh. The next budget offers us no easy options. We will have to make very difficult choices about which services in Children and Families to cut. This is not a place where we want to be."

McGregor's concerns were also backed up by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. A spokeswoman said: "We are obviously concerned about the effects of budget cuts on front line services and in particular on the provision of education."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have increased funding to local government by more than 13 per cent over the next three years, providing GBP 34.9bn. For each of those three years, we are also spending a higher percentage of our overall budget on local government than the position we inherited from the previous administration."

Originally published by Eddie Barnes Political Editor.

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