Qualified teachers could be withdrawn from nursery schools across the city as part of the council’s budget cuts.
And nursery head teachers could also be targeted in the search for savings. The SNP-Labour coalition is considering a proposal from officials to replace nursery teachers with early years practitioners in nursery classes, although some teachers would be retained in each of the city’s four localities to give support.
A further proposal would see nursery head teachers in stand-alone nurseries replaced by the local primary head teacher. Both changes would apply form the 2019-20 academic year and together they would save £1.5 million.
One council insider said: “At the moment every nursery school in Edinburgh has at least one member of staff who is a qualified teacher. The proposal is we no longer do that.”
Some of the affected staff would be redeployed to vacancies arising from Edinburgh’s rising school rolls. The city council said that similar steps had been taken elsewhere in the country.
But Alison Murphy, secretary of the Edinburgh branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland, warned the moves would have a “drastic” effect.
“It’s terrifying,” she said. “We’re very worried. It will have a detrimental effect on what we provide to children.”
She said nursery teachers had “real expertise”, adding: “We already have a problem recruiting primary head teachers who are massively over worked. The idea they could take on more is madness.”
Tory education spokesman Callum Laidlaw said he was surprised at the proposal since meeting the new Scottish Government commitment to 1,140 free hours of early learning was one of the main challenges facing the council.
And he said: “There is an expectation from parents that nursery education is education and that’s different from providing childcare or childminding.”
Liberal Democrat Kevin Lang described the proposal as “astonishing” and Green education spokeswoman Mary Campbell said: “I don’t think anyone can pretend that reduction in nursery teachers and loss of stand-alone nursery heads would be anything other than a service cut.”
The city council said the public would be consulted after final proposals were published by the end of the week. A spokesperson added: “Officers are working with councillors to develop a series of proposals staying true to our commitment to balance the budget whilst maximising investment in priority services and targeting support for residents most in need. It is important to stress these are still only draft budget proposals at this stage. It is regrettable they have been published in their draft form, causing unnecessary concern.”