Monday, 15 October 2018

Primary 1 Assessment - Continued - Comment to Media - October 13 2018

Following on from Fife Council voting to halt Primary 1 assessment I was asked to provide a comment to The Courier.

An SNP MP claimed councillors voting to halt these tests was "political vandalism". Below is the text of the press comment and a link to the article. 

A letter to the media is also attached here. 

https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/fife/744218/fife-councillors-accused-of-political-vandalism-for-move-to-stop-p1-assessments/

Previous comments on Primary 1 assessments can be found at:

http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/10/primary-1-assessments.html

http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/10/primary-1-assessments-continued.html

A link to the hundreds of concerns raised about Primary 1 Assessment and released under a FOI can be found at this link - https://beta.gov.scot/publications/foi-18-01829/

Press Release:

“These comments are quite simply, astonishing. Last week Councillors from all parties, with the exception of the SNP called for a halt to these tests. This was not some political grandstanding but was based on the evidence presented by teachers to the Education Secretary and the SNSA (the body responsible for setting these tests). There are hundreds of email responses from teaching staff across Scotland calling for a halt to these damaging and unnecessary assessments.”

“The early years of Curriculum for Excellence is supposed to be a play-based learning environment. Instead, with these new tests we have teachers trying to sit with one pupil and do the test whilst trying to also teach the rest of the class. Pupils have become upset and demotivated when instructed to do the assessment and don’t understand what is happening.”

“One response from a Primary 1 teacher in Fife said that the school had had to buy in supply staff simply to cover the hours it was taking to get the test done and with no apparent explanation as to what it was aiming to achieve.”

“These tests are conducted online and immediately disadvantage any child who does not have a grasp of computing skills on entering school, they bare no relation to what is being taught in the classroom and are anything but standardised. Staff have reported that the system generates easier questions if required and some children will simply guess the answer as they find it so stressful.”

“Monitoring the learning of Primary 1 children is not about standardised assessment but about nurturing the social, emotional and cognitive development of the child. There is no evidence to suggest such testing will do anything to raise attainment. I would suggest that Mr Chapman has a read through the email responses to his Education Secretary and instead of attacking opposition politicians he starts listening to what teachers and education professionals are saying.”

“Concerns raised by councillors seemed to be mocked as ‘scaremongering’ by the SNP group who appeared to be oblivious to the growing calls for a halt to these assessments. They claim education is their number one priority but refuse to listen to the concerns of teachers. It really is quite incredible.”


Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Scottish Conservative & Unionist
Group Education Spokesperson

______________

Letter

Dear Sir 

At last week’s Council meeting three motions were presented, all asking for a halt to Primary 1 Assessments. Following a lengthy debate, an amendment was voted for by all, with the exception of the SNP group. The amendment called for the Executive Director of Education & Children’s Services to prepare a report asking how withdrawing from these assessments can be achieved and that Council asks the Scottish Government to withdraw requirements for P1 assessments. This followed on from a Holyrood debate led by Scottish Conservative MSP Liz Smith, calling for a halt to P1 assessment, which was supported by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens and saw the SNP government defeated. 

These tests are carried out online, immediately disadvantaging any pupil who arrives at school with little or no knowledge of using a computer, these pupils quite often being from deprived backgrounds. The tests eat into teaching time and have resulted in some schools having to buy in supply staff. More worryingly though, children have been left distressed, crying and feeling demotivated. How do we know this? 

One only has to read through the hundreds of responses from teaching staff in a recently released FOI request, to discover the sheer scale of concerns being expressed. Interestingly, but possibly unsurprisingly these comments appeared to be immediately mocked by the SNP group as scaremongering. 

Whilst SNP councillors in Fife claimed there are little if any complaints about Primary 1 tests they should perhaps go and read through the hundreds of emails available on the FOI request, I certainly have. That way they may familiarise themselves with the very real and genuine concerns and be seen to actually listen. 

This attitude though is so typical of the SNP both at the local authority level and their failing government at Holyrood. Centralisation being the key theme. Scotland has seen more and more powers devolved over the past decade but that has been coupled with a government that has sought to increasingly centralise and remove local accountability. 

Fife Council sent a clear message to the SNP government last week; Primary 1 assessment needs to be halted. Lets see if they are listening. 

Yours







Monday, 8 October 2018

Primary 1 Assessments Continued

This post continues on from the previous post on this page - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/10/primary-1-assessments.html

Primary 1 Assessments - Fife Council debate.
Last Thursday 3 motions were presented at full Council on primary 1 assessments. Due to the broad similarities of these, the first motion (the Lib Dems) was taken as the motion and the 2 amendments (the Scottish Conservatives and then Labour) were heard next. The SNP also put up an amendment. 
Following a protracted debate which saw overall support for a halt to these damaging assessments, from all parties with, of course, the exception of the SNP - who seemed to be more concerned that anyone would question their Scottish Government, the vote was held.
Voting procedure saw the Lib Dem motion fall first, then our amendment. This led to a vote for either the Labour amendment or the SNP amendment. Due to a beefed up Labour amendment, which was not really dissimilar at all to ours, the Conservative group, the Lib Dems and Labour all voted together and defeated the SNP. 
I am pleased that Fife has taken a lead on this following the Holyrood vote last month which saw all Opposition parties vote for a Scottish Conservative motion to halt Primary 1 SNSA tests. 
I would also like to thank my colleague Cllr Dominic Nolan for seconding my motion (amendment, as it became), the Conservative group, the Lib Dems and Labour - all of us sent a message to the SNP in Fife - it is time the Education Secretary listened not only to the will of MSPs but also to councillors here in Fife.



The text of the motion and my speech can be found below. In Council, due to my motion becoming an amendment, the speech was an abridged version of this - cut to 5 minutes from 10 mins. Below is the full text. References can be provided upon request (all removed on this due to format of text).

The Motion (which became the Amendment)
That Fife Council believes although good-quality pupil assessment is an essential component of the drive to raise educational standards in Scotland's schools, it acknowledges the will of the recent Parliamentary vote and notes the level of concern which has been raised by teachers, education professionals, parents and MSPs regarding the introduction and delivery of new testing arrangements for Primary 1 pupils. The Council acknowledges that although formal, standardised testing is essential in Primary 4 and Primary 7, it believes that such testing is inappropriate in Primary 1 where it cannot deliver the same meaningful results. Council further questions whether the new Primary 1 tests are in line with the play-based learning philosophy of the early years provision in the Curriculum for Excellence and urges councillors to call on the Scottish Government to heed the will of the majority of MSPs and halt the Primary 1 tests in Fife. The Council further instructs Fife Council officers to explore, under delegated powers, the option of halting Primary 1 assessments in Fife.

“These tests have taken 4 weeks to administer to my Primary 1s, not to mention the drain further up the school on my teachers’ time to administer the tests to P4 and P7. One whole month of lost teaching time. Stressed teachers, distressed learners and angry parents.” The words of one headteacher. 

“Distressed learners” that is what we have – not “fun” as some have described these tests over the past couple of weeks. 

Last month the Education Secretary claimed he wanted a “fact based debate” on Primary 1 assessments. The motion we have before us is based on just that – fact. A growing body of evidence listing concerns with P1 Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) has been expressed by teachers, education professionals and the EIS and has been read, listened to and examined by cross-party MSPs at Holyrood. The result being a parliamentary motion, that was supported by all Opposition parties requesting a halt to these Primary 1 assessments. 

Today I am going to talk around the background to the philosophy of Curriculum for Excellence in the early years, the parliamentary vote and some of the experiences of those who have been involved in the administering of these tests. 

There is also the matter of accountability and the power and role of the local authority which appears once again to be challenged by the top-down centralisation agenda that has long been a feature of this Scottish Government. In August, a letter that has been described as “draconian” was issued to all local authorities stating that parents do not have the right to opt their children out of these tests. However, by September a letter from the Scottish Government to all education directors stated: “The SNSAs, in common with virtually all aspects of the Scottish curriculum and its delivery, are not provided for in legislation. This means that they cannot be seen as compulsory, but also there cannot be a legal right for parents to withdraw their children from these assessments”. We do know though, that parents have challenged and this and have withdrawn their children. However, it is my colleague who is going to speak in more detail as to where the responsibility and decision of the local authority sits in regards to SNSA testing for Primary 1, which parent body “Connect” has described as raising a question of “whose child is this”? 

Whilst some may choose to call this “political point-scoring” and “grandstanding” I would instead ask you to consider the arguments against standardised assessment in P1 and why we are calling for Fife Council to instruct officers to explore, under delegated powers, the halting of these tests.

Curriculum for Excellence is built around five levels. The first level being the Early Years – which includes the two years before a child goes to school and Primary 1. If we step back a decade to a document that was produced for all staff in pre-school educational settings and the early years of primary – this was Building the Curriculum 2 – and I quote from it: “research indicates that there is no long-term advantage to children when there is an over-emphasis on systematic teaching before 6 or 7 years of age. A key message is that approaches to fostering learning need to be flexible to take account of the needs of the child, and will change as children develop”. This of course was prior to standardised national testing of Primary 1 children, testing that has often left youngsters traumatised, which I will come onto later. 

Continuing with the evidential, a paper produced in 2013 followed children from predominantly state schools in New Zealand to examine whether Reading Instruction Age (RIA) had an impact on the later reading achievement of youngsters, dependent on whether they had begun reading at 5 or 7 years old. I can provide the link to this paper if anyone would like to read further. The findings though demonstrated that by the age of 11 the difference in reading levels had disappeared and those who began to read later had a better reading comprehension overall.

Indeed, the evidence on the need for a continuum of play-based learning through the early years is growing. University of Cambridge educationalist and psychologist, David Whitebread has stated that: “Studies have consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning.” More concerning though, he goes on to say that documented studies have provided a link between loss of play opportunities and increased indicators of stress and mental health problems”.

Upstart Scotland, which advocates a statutory play-based stage, has stated that due to lifestyle changes over recent decades, most children starting school today have had had fewer opportunities for active, self-directed play than in the past. Globally only around 12% of children begin school at 4-5 years old. Countries such as Finland and Switzerland have a kindergarten approach that is inclusive up to 7 years old – yet there is no study that indicates this has had a negative impact on long-term attainment and achievement.

Parallel to less opportunities for self-directed play Upstart Scotland identifies there having been “significant increases in mental health problems among children and young people”.

This leads us onto the matter of stress. Much focus is made of the mental health of young people and rightly so. Our Minds Matter is one such initiative here in Fife which there has been much achieved and last month a policy conference on Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) was held in Glasgow. Child well-being and mental health is clearly on the educational agenda however, when assessments being conducted in Primary 1 are described as “difficult and cruel” – the words of one headteacher in Edinburgh, there is surely, cause for a rethink?

Whilst a Scottish Government spokesperson described the tests as “interesting and easy to do” the experience has not been met so positively by a growing voice of opposition. The children’s services organisation Children in Scotland described the tests as “at best a distraction and at worst stressful and a waste of time for children and teachers”. Play Scotland has stated that it is “tests of opportunities, exploration and everyday adventures” that matter not academic tests in Primary 1.

It is as a result of this mounting evidence that the Scottish Conservatives changed their position – we listened, we recognised these tests were not in the best interests of Primary 1 learners. Will the Education Secretary listen though to concerned teachers and parents? 

I was aware that an FOI request had been made by Willie Rennie MSP on Primary 1 assessment, - baseline assessment which has been described by the EIS as “hampering a child’s education growth. Rather than just reading the summarised versions on the various news outlets I decided to go through these. Let me quote here some feedback to the Cabinet Secretary and the SNSA from teaching staff. Again, I can provide the link for anyone who would like to read these in detail.

“The only possible tiny piece of silver lining I can fathom that could come of this 'data' being submitted and analysed is that perhaps schools that score low (possibly ours) will be given extra resources or funding.” Imagine that – a low score may have the “advantage” of some extra funding! 

A comment by one class teacher makes for harrowing reading:It is not an overstatement to say that I feel I have betrayed relationships and harmed them with our children, particularly our most vulnerable, by putting them through these tests. They are completely inappropriate and have left even those children who are flying and are ahead of where we would expect, upset and worried. Comments like “I’m no good”, “I can’t do this”, “Why are you making me do this?” are common.” 

What of schools where a large proportion of children are identified as coming from a low SIMD decile? One member of staff said: “In the SIMD decile in which I work, children do not have access to computers and laptops and so require support to be able to navigate the mouse to the answer they wish to select, after the question has been read to them, along with the selection of answers - none of which have any relevance at that moment in time because it is a stand-alone task, with no context surrounding it.” These tests are conducted online so immediately any child with no access to IT equipment at home is immediately disadvantaged.  As we know children from deprived backgrounds are often not so well prepared for formal learning when starting primary schools. A play-based learning environment allows such youngsters to settle – standardised online testing will not. 

Recent claims have been made around the cost of these tests. Here is a quote from a Primary 1 teacher at a school here in Fife

Logistically it has been very difficult and expensive for the service to undertake the SNSA. Contrary to what you’ve been quoted saying- it is not possible to deliver the SNSA in the classroom... certainly not putting a learner on the computer and supporting them one to one while delivering a play based curriculum. The classroom is too busy and distracting and I have found it very difficult to comprehend supporting each child one to one on the test while running a classroom of 24 others with no other support. 

How did the school tackle this when the classroom is too busy? This is how: 
“My school, like others, has opted to hire in supply staff to take learners for testing. This has been at a huge expense… Our budgets are tight enough as it is without the added weight of supply staff to implement a test with limited use which we, as teachers at the chalk face, did not ask for”.

This is rather interesting considering claims made in the Dunfermline Press by the Convenor that the testing is going to save Fife Council £100,000 a year. 

The teacher finishes by speaking of some of the children being distressed and crying whilst doing the test.

These comments speak of the harmful impact of these tests with children distressed and crying, the time and resources required, the cost due to some schools having to bring in supply staff and, through reading the whole document, I was struck by the fact that whilst the tests claim to be “standardised” they are anything but. 

Many children, often from deprived backgrounds enter school with no computing skills so require additional assistance. Some schools buddy children up with a pupil from Primary 7 to work through the test with them. Others have commented on social media forums that some schools have support staff direct children to the correct answers. 

Therefore, on the basis of international studies which push for a more play-based learning environment which I do believe the original spirit of the Curriculum for Excellence in the early years was aiming to do, the findings of FOI requests which provide the words of teachers, parents and educational professionals across Scotland, the views of the EIS, and the cross-party support to halt these damaging tests for Primary 1 pupils, I would ask you to support this motion or in the words of one headteacher: 

“I beg you to halt this damaging endeavour. The information gained is useless, the distress caused is massive and the damage done to relationships with families and children cannot be overstated.”
****
























Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Primary 1 Assessments

Thursday is full Council. Cllr Dominic Nolan (St Andrews) and I are putting a motion to Fife Council requesting a halt to Primary 1 assessments. (I will post the text of what I say to Council after the meeting)

This is based on the motion that Liz Smith MSP (Mid Scotland & Fife) put to Holyrood on 19th September and which was passed unanimously by all opposition MSPs (Labour, Lib Dems and Greens). The text has been slightly amended to fit with this being Fife Council.
We request that the will of the Scottish Parliament (representatives elected by us, the people of Scotland) is respected and a halt is called to these online tests which are unnecessary and damaging to youngsters. 

The Curriculum for Excellence Early Years was supposed to have a play-based learning philosophy. I have read through many of the emails submitted (and released under an FOI) to the Cabinet Secretary and the SNSA calling for a halt - many make for harrowing reading both in terms of the upset to children but also the stress placed on teaching staff.

Here is the text of the motion. 

That Fife Council believes although good-quality pupil assessment is an essential component of the drive to raise educational standards in Scotland's schools, it acknowledges the will of the recent Parliamentary vote and notes the level of concern which has been raised by teachers, education professionals, parents and MSPs regarding the introduction and delivery of new testing arrangements for Primary 1 pupils. The Council acknowledges that although formal, standardised testing is essential in Primary 4 and Primary 7, it believes that such testing is inappropriate in Primary 1 where it cannot deliver the same meaningful results. Council further questions whether the new Primary 1 tests are in line with the play-based learning philosophy of the early years provision in the Curriculum for Excellence and urges councillors to call on the Scottish Government to heed the will of the majority of MSPs and halt the Primary 1 tests in Fife. The Council further instructs Fife Council officers to explore, under delegated powers, the option of halting Primary 1 assessments in Fife.
Proposed by Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Seconded by Cllr Dominic Nolan

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Railway Access - Travel Must Be Accessible To All

I still sometimes find it strange to be writing about the need for accessible railways stations in 2018. Believe it or not though, there are 104 railway stations in Scotland that are not fully accessible. By that I mean where there is no access to the rail platform/platforms by means other than only steps. Whether it be a ramp or a lift there are far too many stations that do not have full access. 

Please see links to earlier posts on railway accessibility:



Whilst this makes the railway network all but impossible to access for some - particularly anyone with mobility restrictions, it also makes some platforms extremely difficult to access for those with prams, buggies and heavy suitcases. There are so many railway stations that have had upgrades and when you are not restricted in mobility it makes it all to easy to overlook the fact that many struggle to access trains. 

Earlier this week I had a meeting at the Scottish Parliament with the Shadow Secretary for Transport, Jamie Greene MSP. I wanted to raise the specific issue at two railway stations in the area I represent - Burntisland and Kinghorn. 

There is no accessibility to the northbound platform at Burntisland for wheelchair users and no access to the southbound platform at Kinghorn for wheelchair users. If you have accessibility restrictions you have a choice - you don't alight in Burntisland but instead stay on until Kinghorn or Kirkcaldy and then by a long and complicated (and what seems) a not particularly efficient process you have to arrange to have a taxi collect you. By the same token if you are travelling south and live in Kinghorn you can alight in Kirkcaldy or Burntisland and then go through the whole call a taxi thing and wait until one turns up. Fair? I don't think so. 

If you are a wheelchair user you could also take the option of staying on the train until Kirkcaldy then use the underpass and head back down the line to Burntisland and alight on the southbound platform. What happens though if you have been enjoying a night out in Edinburgh and get the last train? Maybe you can't get a train back from Kirkcaldy. I guess that means you leave your night out early and take an earlier train. Astonishing, right? Quite simply this is unacceptable. Or you may be disabled and drive to Burntisland Railway Station, park your car and take the train to Edinburgh. However, on your return journey you won't be returning to the station of origin and getting in your car to go - because if you are a wheelchair user there is no possibility of leaving the northbound platform. At all. An absolute disgrace and completely unacceptable. 

A meeting was held of the Burntisland Community Development Trust (BCDT) last month to begin the process of reestablishing a campaign for an accessible railway station. To the meeting I took the feedback Transport Scotland had sent me. Their "reasons" why Burntisland does not fit their criteria for an upgrade. Completely dissatisfied with their reasons/excuses I wrote back to them and provided a rebuttal to their claims (see below). 

When I met with Jamie Greene MSP I wanted to highlight the situation in Fife with some railway stations but specifically in my Ward and see what could be done to try and push for some focus on this. 

The Devolved and Reserved aspects of the railway network in the UK come into this - what I do not want though is the usual Scottish Government "its all Westminster's fault" nonsense as this is an issue which the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland can seriously look to address.

The next control period for work on the railways begins in April 2019 (the period in which Transport Scotland advised me that Burntisland does not fit the criteria). The control period covers:

* Capacity Upgrades
* Reliability Upgrades
* Journey Times
* Freight Access

There is money in the budget to cover all of these but the funds are obviously infinite. What I did say though was that in terms of an upgrade, Burntisland is less complicated than many railway stations - there is an old ramp behind the wall on the northbound platform and there is also a tunnel under the railway line. Therefore, there is some basic, albeit old, infrastructure already in place. 

I also learned that there is a fund known as the Squire Fund which was established to collect revenue where Scotrail had had to pay performance penalties - due to late trains, cancellations etc. The fund can be used to deliver improvements such as "station shelters, train doors, train toilets and train announcements" (Scottish Government statement). What I was angered to hear though was that the Scottish Government used some money from this to issue free rail travel to passengers who had experienced delays. 


All in all I felt the meeting was positive due to the action points brought about from it. These include Jamie Greene MSP to table a question for the Scottish Government on the need for fully accessible railway stations - this will happen on 4th October. Additionally, through my press campaign and my disappointment at Transport Scotland stating Burntisland Railway Station did not meet the criteria for an upgrade they have now requested to meet with me to discuss further. Watch this space.

If you have been affected by inaccessible platforms in Fife then do please get in touch. 

This week's media coverage:

Here are my responses to Transport Scotland:

Burntisland Railway Station

Responses to the assessment criteria rationale. 

1.   Footfall – Burntisland has a higher level of footfall than several other stations in Fife. Looking at the below table which I have put together – data shows usage of stations on the East Coast line where it passes through Fife and/or the Fife Circle. On this basis I do not feel Burntisland misses the assessment criteria.

Station
Usage
Accessible?
Population
Burntisland
229,442
Partially
6,269
Cupar
198,226
Yes
9,200
N. Queensferry
156,472
Yes
1,076
Aberdour
125,208
Yes
1,633
Ladybank
82,218
Yes
1,582
Glenrothes
76,916
Yes
39,277
Cardenden
60,100
Yes
5,533
  
2.   Stations where there is a particularly high incidence of disability – Can you further clarify this? Is this based on a percentile of the town? I would find it rather strange for Burntisland to have data that would be far removed from the level of disability in other towns. Can you please also clarify your definition of disability? Does this purely relate to mobility or across all spectrums of disability?
3.   A particular local circumstance such as the proximity of hospitals, a school for disabled children or a military rehabilitation centre – The only station that would be in proximity to a larger hospital would be Kirkcaldy. Cupar and Glenrothes have smaller hospitals. However, in Fife more and more services are based at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy - some medical services previously offered in Burntisland have relocated to Kirkcaldy. Schools for disabled children, please see below data.

School
Station
Accessible
John Fergus 
Glenrothes
Yes
Kilmaron
Cupar
Yes
Rosslyn **
Kirkcaldy
Yes
Balwearie HS **
Kirkcaldy
Yes



·     Please note - ** Rosslyn School is a special school within Viewforth High School and Balwearie High School (catchment high school for Burntisland) has a dedicated Department for Additional Support (DAS) - both of these schools are in Kirkcaldy. In Fife, pupils in a special school or a DAS are provided with transport to and from school. Additionally, pupils at both Rosslyn School and Balwearie are drawn from across the Kirkcaldy area – which incudes Burntisland. Therefore, there are two schools which support pupils with additional support needs (ASN), some being complex needs, within the Kirkcaldy area and therefore, Burntisland. 
4.   Availability of third party funding – Can you please provide detail on what third party funding (if any) went into the upgrades to other stations within Fife (both on the Fife Circle and the East Coast line).
5.   Stations what would help to fill “gaps” in accessibility in the network – Burntisland is inaccessible to rail users with a disability which affects mobility on the northbound platform. Kinghorn (the next station on the line) is inaccessible to the same group, but on the southbound platform. 

I look forward to a more detailed explanation to the criteria that has been set. 

Can you also please confirm that if the Department for Transport develops the assessment criteria and Transport Scotland “are required to submit proposals based on a criteria set by them” - who makes the decision as to which stations receive upgrades? Is the final decision down to the Department for Transport or does Transport Scotland provide a list as a cursory measure whilst already having made the decision? Can the Department for Transport reject a Transport Scotland proposal? Additionally, what percentage of funding from CP6 is allocated to Scottish railway stations? Can you provide me with the formula?












Friday, 14 September 2018

Budget Savings - School Cuts - Number One Priority?

Over the past number of weeks increasing concerns have been voiced by staff, parents and some Councillors about the impact of draconian cuts to high school budgets in Fife. 

See my earlier posts: 


Of 18 high schools in Fife, 12 are facing cuts to their budgets with further cuts being likely next year. Let us keep in mind that this is all whilst the SNP Government at Holyrood continues to parrot its line of education being its "number one priority" - all beginning to look rather hollow now. Figures released this week show only 7% of schools make their performance information available to parents - only 6 in Scotland fully meet the requirements on providing curriculum and attainment data. This is not good enough.

More concerning is that the number of exam passes has fallen at the fastest rate since records began. Yet we continue to be assured by this SNP Government that all is good in education. Cuts to secondary school budgets in Fife are going to hit and they are going to hit hard. Cuts mean the possibility of departments closing, a reduction in practical subjects, reduction in subject choice and ongoing uncertainty for teachers, headteachers and most importantly, pupils. 

In response to cuts to the high school in my Ward, Balwearie High School, I wrote the following letter for the local paper. This issue needs to be continued to be pushed. Fife Council's SNP-Labour Administration passed this budget with little or no information that indicated this would be the impact on schools. The blame lies firmly at the door of the SNP at Holyrood who are sitting on a £500million underspend, thus starving local authorities of much needed cash. Labour in Fife though appears to be scared to tackle this, sits silently and instead leave criticism to their MSPs at Holyrood. Very disappointing for a party which clearly has had a good track record in the past with education in Fife. 

Further scrutiny is required and more questions need to be asked. This simply is not good enough. Every week I receive emails from concerned parents (and the occasional) teacher about upcoming cuts - people are concerned and rightly so. 

The SNP have tried to talk up the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) as the great saviour brought in by their Government at Holyrood as a way to offset these cuts. This is complete nonsense, PEF addresses a different need and targets specific groups and is based on free school meal ratios - it does not provide money for permanent teaching staff - ultimately schools need teachers and teachers who can teach across the curriculum. No fancy project will eliminate the attainment gap unless you have the staff and subjects there for pupils to realise their full potential. 

At this stage I am awaiting a response from the Education & Children's Services Directorate on the formula applied to reach the budget savings in high schools in Fife. 

Here is what I wrote to the press this week:

Dear Sir 

Concerns raised by Balwearie High School parents over Fife Council’s round of budget cuts to education are extremely alarming (FFP 6/9/18). Balwearie is one of 12 high schools to see a chunk cut from its annual budget. These cuts amount to £265,167 for the school over one year and the possibility of an additional £80,000 cut the following year. 

In real terms this could see the reduction in promoted posts and the merging of faculties. Even more concerning is the possibility of a redesigned curriculum that will feature an increase in class sizes due to cuts to practical subjects and a reduction in subject choice. Other high schools such as Madras, Bell Baxter and Queen Anne are facing similar draconian savings.

When I have previously enquired about the savings proposals I have been assured that due to money coming directly from the Scottish Government in the form of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) that these savings will be balanced out. What absolute misleading nonsense. PEF is in place to target and close the attainment gap but is not an infinite resource and it does not buy in permanent teachers. What will close the attainment gap is having enough teachers and enough subject choices to give all pupils the ability to realise their potential. 

Fife Council is having to cut almost £2.3 million from its education budget over the next two years. This is of course whilst the SNP Government at Holyrood sat on a £500 million underspend last year. If education really is the “number one priority” of this Scottish Government then it is about time local authorities were provided with sufficient funding to stop all cuts to education now. 

Yours






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