Alison Thornton: Budget proposals come with strings attached

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It is highly regrettable that some of the city council’s proposals for budget reductions were only published in mid-November leaving a much shorter timescale for people to respond.

There are two specific proposals to which the Educational Institute of Scotland are fundamentally opposed:

The first is the proposal to explore the possibility of the instrumental music service, currently a fully-funded council service, being changed to a “charged for” one.

Edinburgh currently has a world-class instrumental music tuition provision with instrumental music teachers delivering high-quality tuition to pupils across all of our primary and secondary schools. This provision is universally free to all pupils.

The instrumental music teachers not only deliver tuition in schools but also are responsible for leading the large number of city-wide orchestras, bands and ensembles.

Indeed, there is a certain amount of irony that this proposal has been put out for public consultation at the very time of year when the commitment and expertise that instrumental music teachers share with their pupils is put on show through many performances taking place across the city.

Edinburgh is not only the capital of Scotland but the hub of many cultural activities, not least music. Many pupils take forward activities started at school into their adult lives and any proposal that could place barriers in the way of school pupils being able to engage in such activities would be a backward step. The EIS is totally opposed to any proposal that would see any school pupil charged for music tuition.

The second proposal is that which refers to the withdrawal of £500,000 of funding from the budgets of our 23 secondary schools. This money has been given to all schools to put in place arrangements for pupils who without such additional supports would not be able to continue their education at a mainstream secondary school.

The EIS fully supports the mainstream agenda but with the caveat that the appropriate supports for young people are identified and the funding is in place for these to be taken forward. Removing this funding will place further strain on our secondary schools not only for the pupils themselves but fellow pupils, teachers and other school-based staff.

In recent years, as a result of previous budget decisions, there has been a decrease in the amount of special school and specialist service provision available to pupils. At the time of these previous cuts in specialist provision there were clear statements made that some of the moneys saved would be redirected to secondary schools to support inclusion. Within two years this is being proposed for ending and must be withdrawn.

We continue to have major concerns in relation to poor and inefficient heating systems in many of our schools. Similarly, issues around procurement continue. The requirement to use providers only on the approved “Oracle” system, where prices are often higher than other sources, continues to frustrate staff seeking to make best use of ever-diminishing resources.

The EIS, along with fellow trade unions, will continue to lobby councillors to pursue, through discussion with other local authorities, the ending of the council tax freeze. Additionally the EIS, along with fellow trade unions, supports and urges councillors to continue lobbying the Scottish Government for the introduction of legislation to support a Transient Visitor Levy, or tourist tax.

Alison Thornton is secretary of the Edinburgh branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland