Wednesday, 15 August 2018

New Term Begins - Vacancies & Cuts - Priorities

Today another depressing statistic was released, at the beginning of this new term, across Scotland, 231 schools are still searching for staff, some for multiple posts. - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/08/15/200-scottish-schools-have-vacancies-pupils-return-summer-break/



Last week it was revealed that 21 high school posts are still unfilled in West Fife. Nearly every week over the Summer period I have received correspondence and comment from concerned parents and staff as to what is going on. This post though focuses on a particular concern that came to me back in May and affected one department in a West Fife high school. Such was my concern that I raised the matter at Full Council on 28th June. The question I put to the SNP-Labour Administration was:


QUESTION 10 FROM COUNCILLOR KATHLEEN LESLIE

Can the Administration confirm that there are no plans to close the Business Education Department at Queen Anne High School at the end of the school session 2018-2019?

ANSWER

Neither the schools, nor the Directorate, are in a position, yet, to determine what the curricular offer available in a school for session 2019/20 will be.

Curriculum rationale is determined by each school to suit its specific needs and is also based on the curricular choices of pupils. 
Schools now have more flexibility to meet better the needs of all learners to increase achievement and raise attainment. However, all learners are entitled to experience a senior phase where they can continue to develop the four capacities and achieve qualifications.


Why did I ask this question? I specifically asked this as I was approached by a member of staff who stated that in the school's managing change exercise the Business Education department had been singled out as potentially to close (this managing change exercise is available on the school's website). This was despite it being oversubscribed in numbers and meaning that if it was to close at the end of session 2018-2019 (new Autumn term 2019) those pupils studying for a National 4 who wanted to progress to National 5 and those studying National 5 and wishing to progress to Higher, may no longer have that opportunity. 

Such was my concern that I wrote to Council officers but did not feel I had a satisfactory answer. Looking at the above answer I do not feel it is much more satisfactory. Since this was asked I was contacted by another member of staff who was also aware of the potential closure of the Business Education department and also the possible reduction in options on offer within the RMPS department too. 

What is going on? The SNP Government continue to claim that education is their "number one priority" yet we have seen a drop in the number of subject choices in schools across Scotland, a fall in the number of teachers, a fall in specialist teachers (Additional Support Needs and teachers of the Deaf) and the removal of Scotland from some of the international data on standards in attainment. 

Only last year one school in Fife was left with no Computing teacher (http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/08/lochgelly-high-school-what-happens-next.html) and I have been told of at least one other high school in the local authority with a shortage of Computing teachers. 

Determined to get an answer that would provide assurance that any pupil who wished to continue with their Business Education studies next year I asked the below supplementary question. The answer is less than satisfactory - given the location of the school, the subject being oversubscribed and popular in other West Fife high schools in the Dunfermline area, this answer is simply waffle that says nothing. 


SUPPLEMENTARY
Can you confirm that pupils will be able to carry on with this subject at higher level?

ANSWER
Cannot confirm at present but schools work together to meet curriculum needs of pupils in the area.

Following the Council meeting there was some press coverage. We therefore, appear to be in a situation here in Fife where there is a shortage of teaching staff in some areas whilst at the same time the SNP-Labour Administration - due to a £500 million underspend by the SNP Government at Holyrood, are looking to cut back on departments and staff. 


The faux outrage expressed in this post by the SNP co-leader of Fife Council is quite astounding. He claims we agreed to these cuts. He talks of more flexibility whilst we know subject options in the senior phase in Fife schools have been cut, leading to less pupil choice. (see figures below *)

My letter as a response to the SNP co- leader's comments:

Dear Sir

 I was surprised by Cllr Alexander’s response to the possible closure of the Business Education Department at Queen Anne High School. 

The Administration’s Budget stated the need to “review the budget allocation formulae for secondary school teaching staff”, which the Conservative group did not disagree with. However, as is often the case, the devil is in the detail. The Budget statement went on to read “to deliver a more equitable and targeted distribution, reflecting current requirements”. 

Business Education at Queen Anne High School was oversubscribed as a subject choice this year. Therefore, there is no question of the current requirement meriting a cut. 

It has since come to my attention that RMPS staff were advised that certificate classes would be removed and the department cut to one teacher. Again, despite demand for the subject. 

If the Administration is serious about delivering a more equitable distribution of resources they need to be explaining what is equitable about proposed cuts to areas where there is demand? 

Cllr Alexander appears to be following the example of the First Minister by deflecting blame instead of answering the question. The question is quite simple; will the Business Education Department at Queen Anne High School remain post the 2018-2019 session? Pupils, staff and parents need to be given that assurance. 


Yours 

Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Scottish Conservative & Unionist
Burntisland, Kinghorn & Western Kirkcaldy 







And the following week...

 More faux outrage - with the usual SNP mantra "its Westminster's fault". Education is fully devolved and the SNP Government at Holyrood is sitting on a £500 million underspend last year - money that is desperately needed by local authorities for education and other services. 

* The number of subjects pupils can study for the National Qualification in S4. The "gold standard" used to be 8. Number one priority?...

ANSWER

S4 National Qualifications
Auchmuty HS                       7
Balwearie HS                       7
Beath HS                            6
Bell Baxter HS                    6
Dunfermline HS                  7
Glenrothes HS                    6
Glenwood HS                       6
Inverkeithing HS                  6
Kirkcaldy HS                         7
Levenmouth HS                   6
Lochgelly HS                      6
Madras College                  7
Queen Anne HS                 7
St Andrew’s RCHS              6
St Columba’s RCHS          7
Viewforth HS                        6
Waid Academy                     7
Woodmill HS                        6



Thursday, 9 August 2018

Car Park Or Wildlife Haven?

Just over a week ago I was contacted by a concerned resident in Burntisland about a rumour that the area in front of the Platform Studios at the railway station was going to be turned into a (up to 100 spaces) car park. Indeed, there has been a feasibility study carried out. This process began in January of this year after calls by a councillor (not this councillor) that due to issues with parking in the town that the area in front of the studios should be considered as ground for creating up to a 100 space car park. 

Fife Council being Fife Council, the initial completion date of the study was March but didn't finish until the beginning of this month. Prior to the outcome of the study I went along for a chat with a couple of concerned residents and happened to also meet and speak with some of the small business owners who rent space in the Platform Studios - part of the historic buildings of the station. What appeared to be an area of scrub land and weeds, to the untrained eye, is in fact buzzing with biodiversity and very much alive.

I am a long term critic of almost uncontrolled house-building and development in areas which are farmland and fields. As an environmentalist I have often watched as bulldozers set in and wonder how many rabbits, hedgehogs, foxes, badgers and nesting birds (and so much more) are swept away in the chaos of their homes being overturned. Now it seems that even an area of land sitting between the railway station and the chilly waters of the River Forth (separated by only a road that runs to the sailing club and is favoured by dog walkers along the coast) could be subject to the loss of wildlife space. Wandering around on a hot July afternoon and learning the many names of plants, rarer species of insects and the catalogue of birds - many as part of their migratory route, I was struck by the thought that this is not an area of wasteland but a buzzing habitat that provides space for wildlife that is constantly being subject to loss of land. Bees buzzed around - and no-one can fail to ignore the importance of bees as part of our overall food chain, and I actually spotted a couple of butterflies - anyone else noticed their almost complete absence this year?

Following this I had a chat with some of the small business owners - art and jewellery, unique and beautiful pieces and much of it being created due to the inspiring, relaxing and natural environment. As one of the ladies said - how would a car park inspire creativity? Indeed, she is correct. The Platform Studios are leased from Network Rail but in a telling lack of regard for them there is no mention in the Council's feasibility study of what impact there would be on their work and livelihood. Only a mere note of - "It is assumed that the Platform Studios have some form of tenancy agreement with Network Rail." (italics are mine - assumed - really?!). 

Burntisland has had a long-running issue with parking which once again reared its head with the arrival of the shows and Highland Games. The Council decided that to stop the concerns on games day of parking on the Links it would relocate car and instead have them placed off the side of the Haugh Road (with of course no consultation with residents) and now in an attempt to alleviate this problem which in actual fact should have been resolved a long time ago had the Council taken the matter seriously, a proposal is floating around about turning the area behind the station into a huge parking facility. Keeping in mind that we are talking about increased need for parking in the town in two months of the year. 

I accept that there is very limited parking at the station but I have not seen the claimed evidence of cars piling up on surrounding streets - despite being out and having a scout around during weekday mornings. I am also very much pushing for full accessibility at the station which is long-overdue and would very much support additional disabled bays but is it really the best we can do in 2018 - create another car park? Destroy an area of natural beauty to build a car park in a town where there is a good bus services and commuters can walk or cycle to the station - how about pushing for more bicycle bays? 



It may be I am wrong and there is a huge demand, if that is the case then lets hear it. Up until now that has not appeared to be the case. I said from the beginning of my election campaign that I wanted to listen and represent local people - therefore, tell me your views. 

There will be a meeting at the end of this month between Council officers and councillors for the Ward - the more feedback and thought I have the better.

https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/news/environment/burntisland-residents-asked-for-views-on-car-parking-at-railway-station-1-4781160

My comments to this week's Fife Free Press:


Burntisland Station – Parking Proposals

Encourage more cars or encourage a home for biodiversity? This is the question put by Burntisland councillor, Kathleen Leslie

“In January, a feasibility study was launched to examine the need for increased parking provision at the railway station. The land is owned by Network Rail with any proposed car park to sit adjacent to the Platform Studios.” 

Concerns about parking availability have once again caused much discussion and debate in the town with the annual Highland Games and the shows, resulting in calls, from some, for more parking. However, Cllr Leslie takes the view that is an increase in visitors over the Summer months a justification for spending huge amounts of money on a new car park and removing an area of natural beauty?

“The Highland Games and the shows are fantastic for the town and benefit local businesses and residents. To demand further car parks though seems slightly archaic. There is a train station, bus routes and most streets in the town are within walking distance. More creative management of the available parking is perhaps what is needed rather than plough in with plans that threaten local wildlife habitats.”

“The area, at first glance, appears to be just scrub and weeds but does in fact attract migrating birds, rare insect and butterfly species and importantly, bees. There are also small businesses being run from the Platform Studios and they appear to have been overlooked in the study. A couple of the artists have spoken of how the space is very inspiring to them, something a tarmacked car park would fail to do.”

“I very much want increased accessibility at the station and fully support disabled parking bays. However, is a large car park really essential to railway users on a day to day basis? Should the Council be spending money on this when we are all being, rightly, encouraged to walk, cycle and reduce our usage of cars? Is it not right that a haven for flora and fauna be preserved?”

Cllr Leslie is keen to hear what residents think. “Councillors have been invited to a meeting at the end of the month to further discuss the study. Therefore, do let me know what you think. Local government is there to give local people a voice and that is what I have always set out to do.”






"The Royal Scotsman" rumbled through the station. The Platform Studios - proposed parking site
How amazing is this? An insect house!



Friday, 3 August 2018

Burntisland Railway Station - Access Must Be A Priority

Hello everyone. I must apologise for the long delay between posts. I think it must have been this fantastic weather this Summer which has kept me away from writing quite so much. Although, having said that, I have been putting plenty of updates on my Councillor Facebook page, so have a swipe over to it to see what I have been doing.

This is going to be a fairly short post before I get back to writing on here more regularly. It is just to provide a little update on the accessibility issue at Burntisland Railway Station. I wrote about this earlier and the link can be found here - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/04/disabled-access-burntisland-railway.html

An initial meeting to bring together community groups and elected representatives is to be held later this month. Here is the comment (in full) which I issued as a press release earlier this week.

Burntisland Railway Station – Accessibility

Following contacting Network Rail in April to request a meeting to look at accessibility at Burntisland Railway Station, Cllr Kathleen Leslie is optimistic that progress can be made.

“Whilst I felt the response from Network Rail was noncommittal, last year the UK Government announced additional funding for station accessibility improvements in the next Rail Control Period. This will begin next year and run until 2024.”

“Here this will be via Transport Scotland and my understanding is that they have started work on their nomination list so I believe that this gives us a real opportunity to push for Burntisland Railway Station to be considered.”

Residents have written to me highlighting their concerns with the lack of access and the Burntisland Community Development Trust has organised a meeting for 22ndAugust to create a steering group. This will include various groups within the town and also, hopefully, support from locally elected members including MSPs.”

“Prior to the meeting I will be contacting Transport Scotland to request further information on their nomination list for station upgrades. Combined with the feedback I have received so far from residents and affected rail users, I do believe there will be a valid case to progress so that a fully accessible rail facility exists in Burntisland.”

“I continue to encourage anyone affected by the lack of access to get in contact with me.”

 (Thanks to the Fife Free Press for publishing this)

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Additional Support Needs (ASN) - Guidance - Know Your Rights

At the last meeting of Fife Council I asked the Administration what percentage of young people in Fife schools are recognised as having an Additional Support Need (ASN). The response I was given -  it is just over a quarter - 29%. 

Following attending a policy conference last month on ASN provision in Scottish schools and listening a variety of speakers - some from education, others with personal experience it once again became clear to me that there is a disparity of provision, a disparity of understanding and a disparity of how information is provided to key stakeholders - parents and pupils. 

With this in mind and my own experience as having been an ASN teacher prior to being elected, I decided that further to my initial question what needed to be asked was how to ensure that information on access to certain services is made widely available - available to all. This also draw on personal experience, I have had constituents contact me concerned that policies in place in their child's school do not always reflect, what they perceive, to be the support that is required. Support can, and is sporadic, and does not always include all services - or it does for a period of time and then one or the other drops out of the approach. 

A document known as a Co-ordindated Support Plan (CSP) can be put in place to ensure that adequate input from all services (a multi-agency approach) is available to any young person who is considered to have an ASN. What is key to this document is, it is a legal document. 

Whilst some support needs are lifelong, others are not. An ASN could be the requirement for extra support to non-native speakers of English or it could be for a lifelong condition, such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder - in either case, what is essential is that young people and their parents know their rights and what they can access for support. 

Amendments to the Additional Support for Learning Act have provided young people from the age of 12 with a range of rights - including requesting a specific assessment to establish if a CSP is required - below is a list of some of these rights. 

My request is that both Fife Direct and individual school websites publish this information. Access to services should not be confusing and opaque. 2018 is Year of Young People so lets ensure the young people themselves are fully aware of their rights. 

Children's Rights

·      ask the education authority to establish whether a child or young person has additional support needs
·      request a specific type of assessment or examination (or both) at any time, including when the education authority proposes to formally identify whether a child or young person has additional support needs, or requires a coordinated support plan(a “CSP”)
·      receive information or advice about a child or young person’s additional support needs
·      ask the education authority responsible for their or their child’s education to find out whether they or their child requires a coordinated support plan, and to review an existing plan
·      request a specific type of assessment and/or examination to find out whether they or their child require a coordinated support plan
·      express their views and have them taken into account and noted in the child or young person’s coordinated support plan
·      have their case heard by an Additional Support Needs Tribunal if they are involved in a dispute relating to a coordinated support plan.
·      make a placing request to a special school if they or their child has additional support needs*
·      appeal against the education authority’s decision to refuse their placing request. The appeal would either go to an education appeal committee or to an Additional Support Needs Tribunal depending on the situation
·      agree that information can be shared about them with other agencies to support transition planning
·      use free independent mediation services*
·      request independent adjudication
·      apply to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal (called 'making a reference') for decisions about a CSP and certain other issues. In particular, a parent or young person may make a reference about the decisions of an education authority:
o   to prepare or not prepare a CSP;
o   to continue or discontinue a CSP;
o   regarding the timescales for the CSP;
o   not to comply with a request to establish whether a child or young person needs a CSP;

o   to refuse a placing request where a CSP exists, or is required but has not yet been prepared, or if an appeal against a refusal of a placing request has not yet been considered.



Monday, 14 May 2018

Food Waste Bags Distribution

Food Waste Bags Distribution - This is a note from Fife Council on behalf of Fife Resource Solutions. I will add the details also to a separate page here on the Blog for easy access. Please note this began last week (7/5/18).

On behalf of Fife Council, Fife Resource Solutions (FRS) previously delivered 3 rolls of food waste bags every 12 months for all households with a brown bin collection service. 


Survey data from 2016 shows that over 25% of householders do not use food waste bags. In addition, the survey shows that a further 10% of households use less food waste bags than that provided by FRS. Therefore, the current method for distribution is both inefficient and ineffective. 


The Fife Resource Solutions Business Plan (2018-19) outlined a saving of £120,000 by stopping the direct delivery of bags to householders and providing them instead from Recycling Centres. 



Recycling Centre Distribution 

From 7th May food waste bags will be available from Recycling Centres in Fife. A self-service container is available at each Recycling Centre. Householders are asked to take up to 3 rolls of bags every 12 months. 


Customer Service Centres Trial 
Also, as a trial, food waste bags will also be available free of charge to householders at Kirkcaldy CSC (Townhouse) from 7th May (for 6 months). Householders can collect up to 3 rolls of bags per visit. Kirkcaldy was chosen as a trial as it was the first area to receive bags last year, and therefore where households are most likely to need a new supply. If successful, then this service could be rolled out to other Customer Service Centres. 


Posted food waste bags 
Food waste bags will be posted to householders if householders were missed during delivery of food waste bags last year (April 2017 - March 2018). Householders should call the Recycling Helpline on 03451 55 00 22. 


Other options 
Householders can continue to: 
* Use newspaper to wrap your food waste 
* Put food into the brown bin loose, especially dry foods such as bread 
* Buy food waste bags from other sources provided they carry the compostable symbol shown. This will make sure that the bags will compost in our Anaerobic Digestion Plant and create compost. This includes Leisure Centres in Fife and ONFife libraries (£1.30/roll) – site list at www.fifedirect.org.uk/foodwaste





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