School jobs axe as council cuts £7.5m from budget

Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
22
Have your say

Class sizes are set to rise and head teachers and classroom assistants lose their jobs as the Capital’s schools face £7.5 million of cuts.

Everything from libraries and breakfast clubs to extra teachers hired to keep class sizes down in key areas are set to be hit as a result of the savings outlined today.

Shared headteachers are set to be introduced at primary schools and nurseries which border each other, while the budget for “additional support needs service” or classroom assistants is to be slashed by £1.05m.

The budget proposals put forward by the city’s children and families department aims to protect core school budgets.

But the planned cuts today angered families, politicians and campaigners who described it as “raising concern on top of concern”.

The city’s education leader admitted the proposed cuts would be “difficult” but said the council’s hands were tied as money handed down by the Scottish Government continued to decline and revenue-raising avenues such as council tax increases remain blocked off.

Councillor Paul Godzik said the spending decisions had not been taken lightly in the £390m children and families budget.

He said: “We know this will be difficult – overall, children and families spending is nearly 50 per cent of the council’s total budget and therefore cannot be shielded from the effect of a declining budget year on year.

“What the Scottish Government is giving is significantly less and we do not have the ability to raise our own revenue through council tax.

“We’ve sought to protect the core schools budget and devolved school management budget used by heads for the day-to-day running of schools – and there’s substantial funding coming through our Early Years Change fund to provide intensive support for families.”

Much of the detail of the cutbacks is yet to emerge and will not become clear until full budget proposals are published on Friday. However, it is known around £1.72m is set to be cut from spending on allocating extra staff to limit class sizes 20 in English and maths in S1 and S2.

A target to work towards a class size of 18 in P1-3 is also set to be ditched, while around £520,000 is being sought from the Capital’s school library, breakfast club and music services.

In all, £16m is to be saved from the children and families budget between now and 2017-18, with £7.5m directly impacting on schools.

There are also cuts in payments to special schools and foster carers, and the axing of beds in secure accommodation for troubled kids.

In total £2.3m would be clawed back through cutting 11 secure child accommodation beds and “anomalous” grant payments to hundreds of non-resident parents who send youngsters to city pre-school groups,

Cllr Godzik said savings targets were not set in stone but stressed alternative strategies would have to be balanced against a continued squeeze on financial resources.

“We’re in the position that we have to look at an overall budget that’s reducing quite considerably, but if people think our priorities are wrong or that they will substantially affect services, we want to hear from them - this is a two-way dialogue,” he said.

One key area of concern is experienced staff losing their jobs as shared headteachers are introduced at primary schools and nurseries which border each other. Although the number of top jobs likely to go is thought to be small, critics say it is difficult to put a value on a top teacher when it comes to inspiring the Capitals’ youngsters.

Parent representatives and union leaders and welfare organisations lined up to criticise the cuts.

Nicola Clark-Tonberg, chair of Broughton Primary parent council, said: “This is just raising concern on top of concern.

“More compromises will have to be made. I’d be concerned that there will be more children taught by the same number of staff. Certainly at Broughton, the learning assistants are stretched very thin as it is.

“Where you already have a large class, and there are children who need help with things like English, having more children taught by one teacher will stretch staff even more. I imagine the pressure will be on teaching staff to come up with ever more creative ways of dealing with this.”

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said city education leaders had gone for “soft 
targets”.

“Proposed savings to additional support needs is probably the key concern for us because of the degree of support that’s needed in 
Edinburgh,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for schools not to look at alternative provision. They have to satisfy the legislation on additional support and they presumably have a plan in place which will involve using mainstream teachers.

“That’s a huge one for us – given the legislation, it’s difficult to see how Edinburgh’s schools can deliver their statutory duties and effectively support kids.”

Children’s welfare leaders said the headline figures indicated an uncertain future for the city’s most vulnerable youngsters.

Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: “Clearly in these difficult times, councils have an 
obligation to deliver best value for money on all services.

“These cost-cutting proposals appear to fit this criteria. We would always hope that local authorities prioritise spending on early intervention, preventing the need and demand for expensive crisis measures such as secure accommodation. But it’s not clear from these proposals what alternatives will be put in place or how the council intends to meet the needs of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable children and young people.”

The Scottish Government meanwhile rejected suggestions that 
austerity measures had undermined the city council’s ability to maintain investment in schools.

It insisted that “resource funding” for teacher numbers would be maintained in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16, even though a council tax freeze would still be in place.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The council is responsible for managing and allocating the total money available to it on the basis of local needs and priorities.

“The council tax freeze has been fully funded by the Scottish Government and in addition to the council’s needs-based funding it received an extra £23.1m this year resulting from the Scottish Government’s manifesto commitment to make sure that all local authorities receive at least 85 per cent of the Scottish average funding per head.”.

‘I feel betrayed, let down and shocked’

CHRIS Heggie, whose ten-year-old son has Asperger’s syndrome, said parents across the Capital would feel “betrayed, let down and shocked” at news of fresh cuts to additional needs support spending.

The 50-year-old – who told how his son, Dylan, faces taking Prozac because of stress brought on by lack of support from staff at Nether Currie Primary – said he and other parents now felt like they had to “fight for everything” before their children get the help they need in class.

Mr Heggie has now filed a stage 2 complaint to the council over the treatment his son received after he was recently refused a place at Kaimes Special School.

He said: “I think I and other parents will feel betrayed, let down, shocked.

“And I think I and so many other parents will feel we have to fight for everything – but why should parents have to fight for kids with needs to get a good service?

“You have enough on your plate with bringing them up. To have to fight to get them a decent service is a crime.

“And for the council to have the cheek to call this inclusion is a crime. Now they’re calling everything inclusion under the umbrella of saving money.”

Mr Heggie said his life had been turned upside down by the dramatic deterioration in his son’s mental health, caused, he claimed, by school staff failing to provide sufficient “audited hours” of one-to-one support.

He said Dylan had been landed with lots of extra homework, despite also being diagnosed with hyper-mobility and low muscle tone.

He said news of proposed cuts to schools funding confirmed his suspicion that difficulties he encountered in enrolling Dylan at Kaimes were due to under-pressure finances in the education department.

“I don’t mind my child going to a mainstream school but the support for that costs money,” he said.

“Everything we went through makes sense now. I think they knew in advance they were going to make the cuts and I think they said to the staff at Kaimes not to accept any more applications.

“Rather than admit it’s due to cuts, the authorities won’t give us a straight answer.”

‘Where does it end? This makes it harder’

THOMAS Lynch, chairman of Edinburgh-based childcare provider Dads Rock, said proposed savings in spending on nurseries and other early years services contradicted official council and government policies.

Mr Lynch, whose group is the first in the Capital set up specifically for new fathers, said: “Any move to reduce money for these groups is going to have a detrimental impact on society as a whole.

“It just flies in the face of what you hear that the Scottish Government wants to do – for example, bringing in legislation to increase the number of hours of childcare that families can access.

“Then there’s the council talking about childcare co-operatives. What it’s doing now doesn’t seem to go hand in hand.” Mr Lynch said he understood public finances were still under pressure but he predicted that cutting grants to working families which use Edinburgh-based pre-school groups – even if they don’t reside within

city boundaries – would be counter-productive.

And he said many childcare providers in the city would be worried about the possible loss of hundreds of customers after savings are introduced.

He said: “Surely we want to help families and parents into work and how can we do that if we’re introducing cut-backs?

“Where does it end? We’re always talking about trying to increase the amount of childcare, but this just makes

it harder.”

The main targets

As part of the four-year spending review, education bosses will aim to save:

• £1.945m from nurseries and pre-school education;

• £1.059m from additional support needs;

• £1.72m from limiting class sizes in English and maths;

• £520,000 from library, breakfast club and music services;

• £1.1m on services for children in trouble;

• £1.2m on allowances to foster carers and adopters;

• £573,000 on grants paid to parents who live outwith Edinburgh but use its childcare facilities;

• £140,000 on hiring joint headteachers for nurseries and primaries