Council tax freeze 'risks jobs of 1,500 teachers'

UP to 1,500 teaching jobs could be axed to cover the cost of Alex Salmond's flagship council tax freeze policy for just one year.

A confidential paper drafted by local government body Cosla warns teaching posts could go to pay for the council tax freeze for 2011-12, a policy the SNP wants to extend for a further two years if it wins power next year.

The paper, due to be discussed by Scotland's council leaders in Edinburgh today, outlines what local authorities may have to deliver "in return for the benefits" of the council tax freeze.

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A raft of proposals highlighted in the paper also include a review of the McCrone agreement on teachers' pay and conditions.

The proposal to slash teacher numbers sparked fears of a decline in education standards, and one teaching union leader warned of a return to the "huge class sizes" of the 60s and 70s.

Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) general- secretary Ann Ballinger predicted the crisis would deepen, with teacher unemployment soaring by thousands and university graduates not going into the profession.

The threat to 1,500 teaching jobs highlighted in the Cosla paper comes amid claims that the number of teachers employed in Scotland plummeted by more than 3,500 over the past two years.

SNP ministers would "require local government to agree that the total number of teachers employed in Scotland would not fall by more than 1,500 in the coming financial year", according to the Cosla paper.

But sources have told The Scotsman that the terms of the agreement would allow job losses of up to 1,500 during 2011-12.


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Ms Ballinger warned that the effect of the job cuts would be so severe that additional support needs for pupils would "effectively end" along with on-the-job training for teachers in work.

She said; "The immediate consequences of this action are that there would be an inevitable drop in education standards. We're talking about a return to the 60s and 70s when there were huge class sizes. Additional support needs would effectively end, as would teacher education. There would be no time for more experienced teachers to mentor and support new teachers, either.

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"Thousands of teachers could be without jobs in the future and have no prospect of a job."This could lead to graduates not even considering teaching as a career, which means that, in 10 or 20 years, there would be even more of a crisis in the profession."

Ms Ballinger went on to call on Cosla to hold urgent talks with Scottish Government ministers in an attempt to save the 1,500 jobs.

She said: "There has to be a way of dealing with this that doesn't involve jobs going."

Meanwhile, the Cosla paper said that local authorities were "unlikely to be successful" in having their share of the council tax freeze protected if they offered "nothing in return".

The paper said that the proposal to axe up to 1,500 jobs, as part of a series of suggestions, was a "judgment about what things to offer" to the Scottish Government in order to strike a deal about freezing the council tax.

A decision about whether Cosla would back the proposals was described as "a crucial judgment" and one that "only all leaders" of Scotland's councils could address.

The job cuts were one of "a minimum number of priority issues" that the government would demand from councils in exchange for funding to freeze the council tax.

Other proposals set out in the document centred around maintaining police numbers and protecting respite care services.

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The document finished by saying that "all that is required is a decision" to carry out the proposals, including the job cuts.

Another Scottish teaching union leader described the news as "extremely worrying".

Ronnie Smith, EIS general-secretary, said: "The number of teachers in our classrooms has fallen by more than 3,500 over the past two years, which has led to larger class sizes and less time for each pupil with their teacher. It is extremely worrying for Scottish education if local authorities are now looking at further deep cuts to teacher numbers.

"As class sizes continue to rise, the educational experience of pupils will be damaged if local authorities continue to reduce the number of teachers."

Mr Smith went on to call for an end to the "damaging decline" in teacher numbers during a time of big changes in Scottish schools.

He said: "At a time of major curricular change with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, it is essential that we maintain teacher numbers to ensure that all pupils can receive a good education.

"There are currently thousands of recently qualified teachers looking for jobs, so local authorities and the Scottish Government must act to meet their obligations to Scottish education and our pupils by halting this damaging decline in the number of teachers."

A Cosla spokesman insisted the paper was just a discussion document and nothing definite had been decided.However, the spokesman claimed that "very few" of the proposals should "come as a surprise", having been trailed before.

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He said: "This is a confidential paper to inform a confidential discussion with the 32 leaders of Scotland's councils.

"Cosla would re-emphasise this is simply a discussion document and no-one should read it as anything else."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This is an internal discussion document by local government - no more, no less. No agreement has yet been reached, and discussions are continuing."