COSLA goes to war

Written by Tom Freeman on 18 February 2015

COSLA took to the front pages on Monday in a spirited fightback against what they saw as the Government breaking its own rules of local government negotiations. They even threatened a legal war. Their weapon? A new piece of analysis by the Improvement Service which appears to prove there is no direct correlation between the fluctuation in teacher numbers over the last decade, and attainment, which has steadily risen.

Improvement service chief executive Colin Mair said: “There is a set of assumptions in operation that if you look at the data are quite hard to hold onto. There is no direct relationship between aggregate pupil teacher ratio and class size anyway, and there’s no relationship between teacher pupil ratio and performance in the education system.”

However, despite the evidence, teachers will be dispirited to see councils take such a hard line for the right to cut them. The target Swinney referred to in his budget speech was missed by 179 teachers, COSLA say, a tiny fraction of the 51,000 employed in Scotland. But are they saying without those existing targets councils wouldn’t have cut more?

I asked COSLA chief executive Rory Mair if they had considered teacher morale before making the statement.

“There is no part of our objective here which is 'we have 51,000 teachers here, we'd rather have 45,000. No-one is talking about that. We're talking about 179 posts. We're not talking about sacking people, we're talking about removing posts as they fall vacant, we're talking about rationalisations. This idea we're fighting to sack teachers - be careful of that language, that's not what we're doing,” he replied.

The whole of the local government workforce is looking at a reduced workforce and increased workload, he said, “it's not that we want to particularly single out teachers for bad treatment, it's that we want to be able to use some element of that £3bn to make sure the pain is properly distributed. Not just among staff, but among services.”

There we have it. Councils are increasingly in the business of delivering cuts, not investment. The number of teachers councils want to reduce is between 120 and 150, but the teachers I have spoken to find that cold comfort. What they see is a body fighting by principle for the right to cut them. Councils are in such a difficult position, and there’s little doubt the Scottish Government changed the rules with this deal, but it’s hard to see how councils can come out of this looking good.

“I'm absolutely sure if you went out in the street and asked people if they want more teachers or less teachers they'd say more. That's easy to answer at that level, but if you're saying you can have more teachers but it'll mean less people to look after elderly people I think the question might be different, and that's what councils are faced with. That's not the discussion we're having,” said Rory Mair.

Meanwhile yesterday in the chamber Labour continued to apply pressure on the Government to maintain teacher numbers, which puts paid to some of the twitter conspiracy theorists who believe the COSLA move a Labour plot.

Meanwhile, back in parliament Conservative Mary Scanlon called the row "an unsightly rammy" which would "benefit no child in Scotland".

This taken from my weekly education briefing - you can sign up to receive it here

And you can read Kate Shannon’s take on the local government storm here

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