SCOTTISH Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will promise to protect the education budget in real terms over the next five years if she defies the odds and finds herself in government after the Scottish election.
Dugdale will make her pledge in a speech this week which she will use to attack the Scottish Government’s record on education.
With MSPs preparing to consider John Swinney’s draft budget for 2016/17 this week, Dugdale will criticise the cuts to local government and the Finance Secretary’s failure to protect education.
Swinney’s budget has come under fire for cutting around £300 million from councils, a sum that will put pressure on school funding.
Dugdale also attacks the government’s plan to cut the Education and Lifelong Learning budget by more than £130m (4.4 per cent) in real terms next year.
The Scottish Labour leader will promise to protect the budgets of schools, colleges, universities and student support in real terms.
“Nicola Sturgeon has said that education is her top priority – but her budget doesn’t reflect that. She is proposing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to local services, which will hammer education budgets up and down Scotland,” Dugdale said.
“The SNP government in Edinburgh has pledged to protect health and police budgets, but not the spending on our schools for young people. Funding education has to be a national priority again. Cuts made by the SNP to local education funding over the last nine years are already hurting our children’s schools. Cuts to education undermine the economic potential of our nation. The choice facing voters in the election is now clear – we can use the new powers to invest in our young people with Labour, or keep cutting school budgets with the SNP.”
Dugdale will claim that there are now 4,000 fewer teachers than when the SNP came to power, while 6,000 children leave primary school without being able to read properly.
In the further education sector, there are now 152,000 fewer students going to college.
She will also claim that not enough is being done to close the attainment gap which sees children from well-off backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts.
Dugdale has said she intends to fund her education policies by raising taxes on the highest earners.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This government is committed to delivering both excellence and equity in equal measure for all children in Scotland.
“We are investing significant amounts in education, including the £100m Attainment Scotland Fund and over £7m to strengthen teacher skills and educational leadership, including establishing the Scottish College for Educational Leadership.
“Thanks to the action we have taken to secure agreements with every local authority and committing a £51m funding package, the number of teachers and the pupil teacher ratio in our schools have been maintained at last year’s levels despite an increase in the number of pupils.
“Since 2007, revenue spent on schools and pupils has risen, while councils are planning to spend 3.3 per cent more in cash terms on the delivery of education in 2015/16.”