Education cuts are looming

Published:

A report from Edinburgh Council could be a precursor to education cuts – a problem facing many areas in Scotland, fears Alex Wood.

In December 2013, the City of Edinburgh Council launched its BOLD team. This wasn’t an initiative to raise levels of courage or audacity among council staff. It was an initiative to achieve Better Outcomes through Leaner Delivery.

Never trust an organisation known by an acronym. Trust it even less if the acronym has no relationship to the actual purpose of the organisation. 

The purpose of the BOLD initiative and of the Council’s BOLD team was simple: to reduce council spending. At that point the target was an eight per cent cut over four years.

The latest report from the BOLD team to all council staff is headed BOLD Business Cases: Delivering a lean and agile council. It spells out what “lean and agile” means.

The council needs to close a budget gap of 

£67 million by the end of the financial year 2017/18. That is, services have to be reduced by that amount. 

“An estimated reduction of up to 1,200 roles is identified across the workstreams.” In other words 1,200 jobs have to be lost. The statement continues: “We envisage that some reduction in roles will be addressed through natural turnover of staff and we will also be looking at improving our approach for redeploying staff across different service areas.” 

It’s not exactly a confident prediction of the former no-redundancies pledge, indeed it is made explicit that aspects of the plan will require the current no-redundancies policy to be considered and reviewed.

The immediate implications for education are imprecise. Much of the short-term savings are to be achieved through significant cuts in the council’s Neighbourhood Management system and the report points out that: “Teaching staff are currently governed by nationally agreed pupil/teacher ratios. These are out of scope of the programme but there is an opportunity to include in future service design.” Given however, that teachers’ salaries comprise 30 per cent (£159 million out of £530 million) of the council’s staffing budget, they must soon be in the firing line. Other education staff, including adult education and youth work as well as library services, have already been cut. School management teams have been reduced as have all promoted teaching posts.

School staff are becoming drained. Those who can retire are getting out. Those who can wind down are doing so. Management is stretched to the limit. Classroom teachers are running hard to stand still.

Edinburgh is not a brutally reactionary local authority. It is controlled by a Labour-SNP coalition, the instincts of which is to defend services. Nor however is Edinburgh Council unique in facing such drastic reductions. The same issue, with variation only in the degree of crisis, faces councils across Scotland, a situation undoubtedly exacerbated by the Scottish government’s insistence on a freeze on council tax rates across the country.

Perhaps one of the least desirable outcomes of the recent referendum debate is that the threat facing Scottish public services and Scottish education in particular has not even appeared on the radar. The constitutional issue has, perhaps conveniently, drowned out any discussion on services.

It would be tragic if a host of cuts in educational services were to be implemented at the very time when the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee, justifiably, is challenging schools and teachers to look at how to raise attainment generally and make a serious impact on the inequalities of educational outcomes in our population. With a General Election looming large however, it is an opportune time for the teachers’ unions to start campaigning vigorously against the devastation which faces Scottish schools, to appeal to parents, and to ask serious questions about the education service our country requires. 

  • Alex Wood has been a teacher for 38 years. He is now an associate with the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration at Edinburgh University.

 


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