Edinburgh education cuts 'would hit poor children' and could make staff 'finally break', warns union
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Cuts planned to Edinburgh's education budget would undermine vital work to tackle the attainment gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds, a teachers' leader has warned. And staff working under "intolerable strain" could reach a tipping point where they "finally break".
Council officials are proposing cuts of £7.1 million from education as part of a massive council-wide savings exercise forced by a government funding squeeze. A report by officials insists cuts will not affect "core teaching activities". But in a letter to councillors, Alison Murphy, Edinburgh secretary of the EIS, Scotland's biggest teachers' union, says: "Our schools are already chronically underfunded. Please do not labour under any misapprehension that what is proposed here will do anything other than make an already bad situation worse."
The proposed cuts include a reduction in the number of "transition teachers" who work with pupils as they make the switch from primary to secondary school, long recognised as a time when some children's learning can dip or even go backwards. The report from officials says: "These posts were allocated to provide additional support during the pandemic and can now be removed without impacting on core teaching activities or core support activities." But in her letter, Ms Murphy quotes a job advert for one of the posts which appeared in December and makes no mention of Covid recovery. She asks: "If this was additional pandemic support, why were people being appointed to permanent transition roles within the last month or so?"
And the letter says: "The council created these roles in an attempt to address one of the key reasons behind the attainment gap – the failure of many children, especially those from the most deprived backgrounds, to make a successful transition from primary to secondary education." Ms Murphy describes the proposal to cut the posts before they have become properly established "perverse". And she adds: "If the council is serious about closing the poverty-related attainment gap, and genuinely wants all children to fulfil their potential then we have to go beyond core activities."
Officials are also proposing to reduce the budgets allocated to headteachers – used to pay for equipment and some staffing – by £1.95m in 2023/24 and £2.9m in a full academic year. The report says this was additional funding to provide support during the pandemic. And it adds: "Consultation with head teachers indicates that it is not required to support core activities on an ongoing basis."
But Ms Murphy says the cut is presented as a technical accounting exercise, rather than what it is – "a further reduction in budgets that already completely insufficient". She continues: "Staff are working way above their contracted hours; are dipping into their own pockets to buy basic resources; are doing work that is way outside their core job descriptions; are working themselves into ill health and breakdowns – all in an effort to try to meet the needs of the children in front of them. I fear we are reaching a tipping point, and risk a cascade of failures as people who have been working under intolerable strain for far too long finally break."
Another proposal would see the council claw back £2 million of "underspend" which heads would normally carry over to the next year. The report says the underspend is due to difficulties recruiting, but Ms Murphy highlights one head who said they had been desperately saving money to try to replace expensive items which were "massively out-of-date" and now face losing it all.
Councillors will vote on the 2023/24 budget for the city at a special full council meeting on February 23.