Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Its A Start But More Needs To Be Done - Education - Training - STEM

Today I have the lead letter in the Central Fife Times discussing plans by the Scottish Government to train and recruit more STEM teaching staff to address shortages. A £20,000 "career changer" bursary will be offered to those seeking this route. 

I wrote about this extensively on a previous post - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/10/20k-welcome-but-is-it-enough-is-it.html . The idea is great, after all it was put forward by the Scottish Conservatives last year, as is so often the case though, the devil is in the detail (or so one of my fellow Councillors like to say...),. at this stage we await the detail.

Ambitious plans are afoot by the Scottish Government to dramatically increase the provision for Early Years provision in Scotland, which in Fife will mean the training and recruiting of around 400-500 new Early Years Officers. Given the shortage of teachers across Fife and the need to continue to use long-term supply staff, a huge recruitment drive is going to be required. A recruitment drive that must see the provision of permanent jobs at the end of it. 

Below is the letter that was published in full and also the link to the longer article which I had published on the website Conservative Home a few days ago - https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2017/10/kathleen-leslie-the-snp-is-to-blame-for-the-shortage-of-scottish-teachers.html



Swinney’s £20,000 to attract more STEM teachers 

Education Secretary, John Swinney this week unveiled plans to grant a bursary of £20,000 to attract career changers and those with experience in the field to retrain as STEM teachers. 


“A fantastic idea” states Cllr Kathleen Leslie: “This policy decision is one to be welcomed, indeed it was one that the Scottish Conservatives first put forward last year. Scotland has 4,000 fewer teachers than it did when the SNP came to power over a decade ago, couple that with cuts in real terms to spending on education and only now they are attempting to remedy their catalogue of failings.” 


Fife is one of many local authorities across Scotland that has seen insufficient teaching staff to meet demand. At the beginning of the school year Lochgelly High School pupils were left with no Computing teacher and the youngsters being informed they would need to recourse subject at a critical point in their education. This meant those who had chosen to study at National and Higher level were no longer able to continue and in turn meaning it could affect their being able to apply for the college or university course they were seeking. 


Only last month Trinity Academy in Edinburgh, was added to the growing list of schools facing a crisis in teacher recruitment, by having to appeal directly to parents to help find two Maths teachers. Cllr Leslie feels is down to the Scottish Government failing to invest properly in education and to have provided more incentives including better pay for teachers. 


“We have seen Scotland tumble down the PISA international scores in both literacy and numeracy and only 1 in 10 children from deprived areas are now going onto university. Currently children from affluent backgrounds are seven times more likely to achieve 3 “A” Higher passes than who from deprived backgrounds, all this from a Scottish Government that claims education to be its number one priority. Today it would be rare to find a school in Fife that does not rely on supply staff to plug the gap in teacher shortages, particularly in the STEM subjects. This new initiative is to be welcomed but the overall approach to training, recruitment and retention must be examined. Young people have one opportunity at education, government has a responsibility to get that right.”


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Missing In Education

Last week the BBC published an online article examining the incidence of children missing in education in Scotland - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41579840 . "Children Missing in Education" came into place in 2005 as a response to children who are unable to be traced by local authorities after a four week period (or 2 to 3 days for the most vulnerable of children). Worryingly though, not all children who go missing are traced. In the past three years 32 missing children have never been traced - where have they gone?

Children missing from school can be down to a number of reasons, some of which can simply be relocation of family and an oversight to highlight this to the school and local authority. However, other reasons are more sinister and can include abuse and forced marriage. The Scottish Government's own research states that between 2011 and 2014 there were 191 cases of known forced marriage ("forced marriage defined as: where one or both people do not consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/forced-marriage ), of these cases the majority were within the 18-25 age group, with those under 16 being 1 in 10 of these - http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0051/00513514.pdf . Therefore, it is possible to suggest a causal link between missing in education and forced marriage in at least some cases. 

COSLA has stated that the highest incidences of children "missing in education" has been amongst young people in cities where populations are very mobile and families come from a "broad range of backgrounds" - http://www.cosla.gov.uk/news/2017/10/cosla-reponse-missing-children-education . Many of these have been children from Eastern Europe where often people will either relocate back to country of origin or else move to where there is work. 

BBC Freedom of Information requests were sent to all 32 local authorities in Scotland with responses indicating that 390 children between the ages of 4 and 16 have been recorded as "missing in education" in each of the past three years. Given that the Children Missing in Education scheme, established in 2005, meant that every child has a unique identification number (meaning they should, in theory, be able to be traced across local authorities) we need to ask why this is still happening? What is government doing to ensure this system works competently and no child can just vanish from the system? What measures are in place to ensure children who are more vulnerable are not going to disappear? 

Education Secretary, John Swinney has stated that responsibility for ensuring children are in school rests with the local authority (the same local authorities this SNP government is keen to wrest power away from through their regional collaboratives initiative), which is correct but responsibility also must come from national government. GIRFEC (which I have spoken of often) is not getting it right for that one child who disappears from the system, whose whereabouts and welfare are unknown - that must be addressed. The 139 missing in Glasgow last year alone demonstrates deep flaws in the current system. 

Here in Fife I have sent a request to the Director of Education Services asking the following questions:

1. Has Fife Council responded to this request?
2. How many pupils in Fife over the past three years have been recorded as missing in education?
3. What steps have been taken to discover the whereabouts of those children?

4. How many of those "missing" have since been "found"?

Currently I am awaiting answers to these questions.

Kathleen 





Thursday, 12 October 2017

School Promises Must Be Kept

Today I feature as the lead letter in the Dunfermline Press following last week's decision by the Education and Children's Services Committee to have Officers remove Masterton Primary School from their proposed rezoning project.

My letter focuses on several key concerns:

1. Councillors are not there to do the bidding of Officers. We are there to listen to the people who put us there - the public. We are to listen to them and try as best we can to represent their views and requirements.
2. Officers spoke continuously in terms of engagement sessions and what they thought was right - in Scotland where the child is at the centre of their learning and progress, no Officer had spoken to any pupil to find out how they felt about a decision that will ultimately affect them before anyone else.
3. Being part of a "community" every definition of a community failed to apply to the proposal on the table.
4. New schools - I have lost count of the amount of newspaper articles, pronouncements and promises made by elected representatives prior to May 5th this year on building new schools in Dunfermline. Now is the time to put those promises into action. Dunfermline and West Fife need new high schools, let us see that process begin.

Rather than continue on a long commentary here, I refer the reader to a previous discussion I had on this from last week and then the text of the full letter to the Dunfermline Press. - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/10/we-people-elected-representatives.html

Dear Sir

Last Tuesday, Fife Council’s Education & Children’s Services Committee rejected, for a second time, Council Officers’ proposals to move to a Statutory Consultation that would have rezoned Masterton Primary School pupils to Inverkeithing High School instead of a high school in Dunfermline. A decision which would have cut youngsters off from being part of the Dunfermline community.

Whilst Officers were keen for Councillors to do their bidding, the cross-party consensus was that they had not got it right and would now have to redress the potential upcoming capacity crisis by removing Masterton Primary School from the equation. Given the extent of correspondence Councillors around the table had received from concerned parents it would have been wrong to sign off a decision that would have had an adverse effect on the well-being of youngsters.

I found it quite incredible that despite engagement sessions at affected primary schools no Council staff had thought it prudent to speak with the youngsters themselves and seek their thoughts. Councillors presented various definitions of a community (all of which failed to apply to Masterton children going to school in Inverkeithing), pointed out the lack of safe walk routes, the time youngsters would be waiting around for a bus home on dark Winter evenings and that whilst a continuous border may look so on a map the reality is somewhat different.

I understand that halting a move towards Statutory Consultation at this point means that Woodmill High School could potentially be over capacity in August 2018. However, given that since 2000 Dunfermline has seen the building of around 8,000 houses and the likelihood of a capacity crisis was recognised in 2015 it leaves me wondering what the previous Fife Council Administration was doing. Did no-one think that building so many new houses might mean that the current school infrastructure would not be able to cope? Or was it easier to just put off a decision and when we hit crisis point just move children around like pawns on a chessboard?

£50 million is set aside in the Capital fund for the building of new schools but to move this forward I have been informed that Fife Council must approach the Scottish Government for the other two thirds of the money. Prior to May’s local government elections many promises were made by councillors to build new schools in Dunfermline. We now need to see those promises kept.

Yours

Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party






Tuesday, 10 October 2017

£20k Welcome - But Is It Enough & Is It Right? - Education Bursaries

Earlier this week Education Secretary, John Swinney announced the Scottish Government would be offering a £20,000 bursary to what he terms as "career changers" who wish to re-train as STEM teachers. Great idea, just a shame he doesn't admit the idea was one the Scottish Conservatives had thought up last year. But hey, at least he is getting it right now, or is he? Let us look at this a bit closer.

Scotland has seen a dramatic fall in the number of teachers - there are 4,000 fewer than when the SNP came to government a decade ago. At the beginning of the school year in August, Scotland had 700 teacher vacancies, where are all the teachers? 

Perhaps a decade of being subjected to an ongoing crisis in implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, National Qualifications that are still plagued by assessment criteria problems, a devastating drop in international ranking according to PISA scores (scores an SNP Councillor in Fife was heard to sneer over as to their relevance), a system whereby those from the most affluent backgrounds are 7x more likely to achieve 3 "A" Higher passes than those from the most deprived backgrounds, 152,000 college places that have been cut and where only 1 in every 10 children from a deprived area go to university as opposed to 1 in 5 in England. Welcome to SNP Scotland. Education is apparently their number one priority and the First Minister wants to be judged on her record on education. Lets leave that one there. 

So what is this plan? Scotland has a shortage of teachers which is subject wide, however, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) the shortage is even more acute - demand outstrips supply and couple this with the fact these sectors are growing and we have a problem. Unfortunately, due to a decade of part indifference - due to an absolute obsession about independence and the chaotic implementation of a curriculum that has become skills heavy and knowledge deficient and we do not have an attractive prospect. 

Two months ago a school in a part of Fife that has suffered from multiple deprivation in parts of its community and where a focus on STEM subjects could provide avenues for youngsters to realise their full potential and go onto college and university, we instead saw the school lose its only Computing teacher and absolutely no plan on how to remedy this. See link - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/08/lochgelly-high-school-what-happens-next.html
Whilst in one of Edinburgh's leading State schools, Trinity Academy, an urgent appeal was put out by the head-teacher last month in a desperate attempt to recruit two Maths teachers - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/13/snp-attack-middle-class-edinburgh-school-forced-ask-parents/

I cannot help but wonder how in a country with a once globally renowned education system we seem to have slipped in international standing and failed to successfully recruit and retain teachers?  Perhaps that could be linked to dissatisfaction at a government derived curriculum that was supposed to enhance creativity but has done the exact opposite? Or perhaps due to an inspectorate that is part of Education Scotland which is a government quango and an overwrought bureaucratic system that sees the only teaching regulator in Scotland (the GTCS) have experienced teachers from other parts of the UK jump through hoops before they can even begin to satisfy their requirements, and then quite often places them on "provisional registration" (meaning you are at the bottom of the pay scale). 

This latest policy initiative by the SNP (yes, another one...) set out to "attract" these career changers into teaching with a bursary for their training year of £20,000 - to make up for any income shortfall. Given that a huge number of technology and IT related jobs are in the private sector one can only wonder how this £20k will match to their current earning potential. I also wonder if anyone has told them that the starting salary for a new teacher in Scotland is currently £22,416 - keeping in mind most "career changers" will have a mortgage and many will have young families to provide for. 

Any moves to recruit more teachers and in particular subject shortage areas is very much welcomed. Indeed I wish it every success but I cannot help but feel this is just another SNP sop at claiming to have education as the number one priority. I would also like to see assurances that these new teaching positions will be permanent. Rare it is today to find a school in Scotland which does not rely on a pool of supply staff, many working week after week and month after month with absolutely no contract. Training new teachers is a commitment not only to ensuring the young people of Scotland have a teacher in front of the classroom but also a commitment to the "career changers" - they are the ones who are about to take a leap into the unknown. On the finer details we await. 

Reflections
In theory this does sound like a step forward to address the recruitment crisis due to a decade of mismanagement. In practice though to attract more teachers in STEM subjects and all other subject areas, other avenues of entry to the profession need to be looked at. Not so many years ago independent schools were not tied into having to have teaching staff who were GTCS registered. As Rod Grant, the head-teacher of Clifton Hall School, lambasted Scottish Ministers in 2015 when he told them the system here meant that Stephen Hawking wouldn't be allowed to teach Physics and that the regulator did not "care much for outsiders" - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/SNP/11679064/Scottish-teaching-regulator-doesnt-like-outsiders.html Being a specialist in a subject is something that government, local authorities and schools should welcome into the classroom particularly at Higher and Advanced Higher level. Academics can bring a wealth of knowledge and practice into the classroom, therefore, we should encourage more specialism, more choice for schools to engage with the wider knowledge community where appropriate. 

Curriculum, regulation, inspection - should not all be simply proxy arms of the Scottish Government. There has to be independence of curriculum, independence of regulation and independence of inspection otherwise you have nothing more than something out of East European Socialism à la 1960s and failings can be swept aside as we march on with a "success story" - a story that has children leaving primary school without basic numeracy and literacy skills. 

Secondly, STEM teachers are essential but extra recruitment of them must also come with a commitment to reinstate many of the 152,000 college places the SNP has cut. Not all young people want to or can afford to go to university  (free tuition is only a small part of the huge outlay for four years at university) and a return to focus on more apprenticeships for young people has to also be part of any future education policy. 

GIRFEC (that great buzzword/acronym of SNP education) is exactly that - getting it right for every child. Until we see a reversal of declining international scores, a reduction in the attainment gap, more college and vocational opportunities and a focus on reading, writing, spelling and numeracy, we are not getting it right. We live in a global world and Scotland's children need an education that puts them on par with our neighbours and competitors. More STEM teachers are good but the proof will be in the longer term. 

Kathleen 

Thursday, 5 October 2017

We The People - Elected Representatives - Difficult Decisions - Dunfermline Schools

I write this after a rather long day. A day though that brought to mind just exactly who we are and what we do. Given I have a tendency to become rather absorbed in subject matter and spend many hours contemplating an issue - often through the written word, I will attempt to keep this to the point and coherently address each point.

Today was a full Council meeting, which started early for us, as a group, at 9am with a pre-Council brief on matters of the day. Whilst a number of motions and amendments had been tabled I had stuck with two questions to ask of Council, two questions that are particularly topical in Fife and Fife schools. I was keen to see how they would be responded to and what returns I would get on both supplementary questions. 

Today's business was dominated by discussion, debate (at times, heated and almost visceral) on current Welfare reforms. Whilst it was not a debate I spoke during as others within my group are far more qualified and versed speak on, I was struck by something as I listened and looked around the Council Chamber. This is what I have been fascinated by for well over 20 years. The lively interaction, sparring and heated exchanges between and among elected representatives. It is the stuff of many lessons I have taught in the past; demokratia - democracy. It is the cornerstone, the foundation of our Western civilisation. It is the principle of the rule of the people, by the people. It is the stuff that some have attempted to "impose" on other societies (rendering the concept invalid in that narrative - you cannot force democracy, that is an oxymoron). 

Since the earliest days of the Witan - beginning in early 7th century England, whereby secular and ecclesiastical noblemen would advise the king, to the Magna Carta to the Peace of Westphalia, some form of rule by consultation has existed. True, that monarchs (Henry VIII being one such example) have abused and manipulated the powers of Parliament but the continuous thread has been there - consultation; never absolute power. Rule of law to represent the people, to give the people some voice. No system of democracy is perfect, indeed our greatest leader (in my opinion) Sir Winston Churchill is on record as saying: "indeed it is said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried time and time again"...

From sitting in on debate in the House of Commons at 15 year old, to listening to hour after hour of debate in Westminster, later Holyrood and now at local government level, I was reminded again, this is what we are. A people who will debate, often acrimoniously, often with emotion and empathy but debate nonetheless. We do it this way, we do not resort to silencing our opponents through show trials, imprisonment, exile and worse in many parts of the world today. We are mindful that whilst our ego and political ambition may drive us, that ultimately an elected representative, all elected representatives are there to represent the people - not only the people who voted for them. All the people. To give the people a voice. That is why we are there and we should never, ever forget that. 

I feel that leads rather nicely into my next discussion point - earlier this week Fife Councillors made a very difficult decision, but one that demonstrated the crux of my discussion on being representatives of the people. Dunfermline schools, catchment and capacity is a topic I have talked about before and this week it was high on the agenda again. The Education & Children's Services Committee met on Tuesday to consider the proposal by Council Officers on the rezoning of Dunfermline schools, see the link to an earlier discussion - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/08/education-childrens-services-response.html

Having been voted down in July to go ahead with rezoning of primary schools, Officers had returned to the table with the same option. Pupils at Masteron Primary School were to be removed from their Dunfermline community and sent to Inverkeithing High School, rather than the local school, Woodmill. Following a series of engagement sessions which had brought in parents from across the Dunfermline and West Fife affected areas, Officers had decided that of 7 options (why 7 I am uncertain, given that 5 of them were outrightly rejected by Officers at engagement session, perhaps to muddy the waters, the cynic would claim) only 2 were viable ways ahead and the one on the table on Tuesday was to rezone Masterton (the most controversial of the proposals) to a school outside of Dunfermline. 

Whilst Officers presented what they clearly believed to be a strong case, including some fantastic maps, which in theory (note the word *theory*) looked like it should be a fairly simple decision - continuous border from Masterton Primary School to Inverkeithing High School - provided you omit from your line of sight that pesky motorway and the lack of any safe walk route, elected representatives did not quite see it the same way.

Extensive questions were brought to the discussion by councillors which included - what is a community? From every definition of what is defined as a "community" the rezoning of Masterton just wasn't creating a clear fit with that. Is no safe walk route to school what we should be encouraging in 2017? Public buses home looked great on the timetables but didn't take into account the often long walk home and busy roads and not to mention the long, dark Winter nights we have in Scotland - do you want your 12 year old child on a public bus at 6pm on an icy Winter evening? Is it right and fair to disengage young people from their local community - that is the community with after school clubs and activities within Dunfermline where often some of their previous primary school peers will be attending? Whilst Officers battled against every question posed to them they must have realised their arguments were just not being bought into.

My first question to them was - who had spoken to the young people? Who had asked them how they felt about this ongoing uncertainty? Who had felt it right to issue diaries to them for the high school they may not be attending? Who had decided it was ok to attend a visit to the high school they may not be going to? Who had asked them how the pupils in the affected addresses would feel about not going to high school with their peers? The short answer is - no-one had. The engagement session had brought along potentially affected parents, parents who from many of the emails I received, as did other councillors, were asking why Officers did not answer their questions at the engagement sessions? Many were writing stating their dissatisfaction at the way their questions and concerns had been responded to. 

Whilst Officers pushed on with their case and appealed to Councillors to accept their recommendations and move to a statutory consultation, others around the room felt uneasy. Returning to my earlier point - elected representatives are there to represent the people. To listen, to consider their views and make the best, often difficult, decision. No politician will ever claim to get it right for everyone every single time, but we have to try and get it right as often as we can. Tuesday was one of those days whereby the concerned voices of the people were on our minds. To simply have approved Officers recommendations, would have been in my view, wrong. Moving Dunfermline pupils out of Dunfermline schools due to shocking foresight on the part of previous Administrations to properly address the looming capacity crisis at Woodmill High School, would quite simply, we wrong.

Therefore, an amendment was proposed which would remove Masterton Primary School from the proposal - one in which myself and my colleagues in the Conservative group agreed with. However, advice on the legality of removing one school was sought and it was considered that to do so would mean a revising of the whole proposal as it would not be possible to resolve the capacity crisis by doing this. The result being a new proposal will need to be developed and brought back to committee next month.

At this point, I realise that not every affected parent is going to be in agreement with our decision, some may even see it that we should have listened to Officers, but I go back to my original point - we are elected by the people, we have to listen and if that means postponing a decision until we can get an option that will not only satisfy as many people as possible but be as a result of listening to the people, then we are getting it right. Whilst Officers may believe we have made their job difficult, they are not directly accountable to the electorate, we are. As I commented a few weeks ago - Councillors decide policy, Officers execute policy - not the opposite. 

Ultimately we are at this point due to a lack of constructive long-term planning in the past on the part of Fife Council and the Administration. 8,000 homes have been built around Dunfermline since 2000 - many of those being 4 and 5 bedroomed houses, houses for families - houses with children who will need a high school to attend. Why this decision has been put off and put off for so long is really quite puzzling. The current situation is there is £50 million in the Capital fund for new schools - 3 replacement schools, is my understanding. However, due to 2/3 of the money in the past coming from Scottish Government funding, it appears that Fife Council is awaiting this option again. I did ask this question at last month's committee meeting and was advised bidding would begin in 2018. My belief is we begin that process now. Houses continue to be built, primary school children need high schools, the capacity issue will not go away. Instead of continuing with half-baked concepts of rezoning and trying to convince anyone that there is any educational benefit in separating young people from their local community, depriving them of a safe walking route to school and removing them from their social and friendship groups, it is time to start the process of building new schools. Whatever your political persuasion, if we all agree that education is our number one priority, lets get on and prove it. 

Following committee I produced a press release of which only a limited part of the comment was to appear in the local paper, The Dunfermline Press. Myself and Cllr David Ross both contributed to this and whilst his part of the press release does not appear in print, his comments to the committee do. Below are our comments. 

Cllr Kathleen Leslie: “Despite misgivings by parents and councillors, officers have returned to Committee with the original proposal. This proposal would have seen pupils being unable to access a safe walk route to school and being detached from their local community. Dunfermline children should go to school in Dunfermline. There has been a woeful lack of long term planning by Fife Council and children have been subjected to stress at a critical point in their academic development. Educating these children outside their own community lacks common sense.”

“Dunfermline has seen a prolonged period of house building, with near to 8,000 new homes since 2000. For little consideration to have been paid to what was always going to become an issue over school capacity, is quite simply astounding” said Cllr Leslie.
She went onto say; “Whilst this decision is welcomed ultimately the school estate itself needs looked at. Dunfermline needs new high schools and it is time that Fife Council approached the Scottish Government to begin bidding for funding. Until every high school in Dunfermline is fit for purpose, rezoning is only a short-term solution and capacity will appear on the agenda again next year."


Cllr David J Ross:“As one of the councillors for the Dunfermline South ward I have been contacted by a significant number of concerned parents of which an overwhelming majority have been opposed to the rezoning of Masterton Primary to Inverkeithing High School.” David added “the reasons for this are varied and complex and include negative effects on health and wellbeing, No defined transport links, difficulties in participating in after school activities and no defined links between Masterton and Inverkeithing.”

Today's Business

At Council I asked two questions:
1. What plans the Administration has to facilitate the training of Early Years Officers for the increased Early Years & Childcare provision as of August 2020?
2. When the Administration will begin the process of building new high schools in Dunfermline?

To both I had fairly predictable, if somewhat uncontroversial answers. Whatever our thoughts are on the increased EYC provision (see link http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/08/education-childrens-services-response.html) there are processes in motion to train and recruit the anticipated additional 400-500 EYOs required. It was my supplementary question which I really wanted an answer on. The supplementary question asked: Currently Fife Council has 315 Supply (no contract) EYOs, does the Administration plan to provide newly trained EYOs with permanent contracts given the likely changing demand for EYOs on a week by week, month by month basis or does it intend to keep highly trained individuals on 52 week stand-by? 

Here I do not believe I was given an answer. I wanted to raise this point for two very specific reasons. Some years ago I spent near on two years working for Fife Council as a supply teacher - week by week, month by month and then one year to the next with no permanent contract. I fulfilled the remit of a permanent teacher, going as far as to attend parents evening with no extra pay, but with no job security whatsoever. Across Fife teaching staff are "employed" in this manner. They teach in schools up to certificate classes yet have no contract. Whilst the Conservatives have been much targeted over the "zero-hour contract" this is common place in Fife. Some teachers (often retired) are more than happy to work in this way, it offers flexibility but that does not by any means account for everyone. I would imagine it would be difficult to find a school in Fife which does not have at least one supply teacher on its books. That one teacher who will diligently do their job whilst knowing that there is no job security and on day one of the summer holidays the money stops. That simple. My concern is that the same will happen with newly trained EYOs. 

Interestingly at the Area Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon a proposal was put forward that those employed to work on assisting people with the new Welfare reforms should be employed on permanent placements, because as the convenor, rightly pointed out, not having a permanent contract means not being able to apply for a mortgage amongst other things - let us keep that in mind when the new Early Years provision is rolled out - people employed need permanent jobs. 

My second question was not answered as I had been hoping for. I had rather anticipated some forthcoming about approaching the Scottish Government for funding for new schools but was rather met with a response about looking at the school estate. There has been talk now for years of the need for new schools - I have gone back through various press releases and commentary on this from both Labour and the SNP and demands and promises, yet we still seem to be stuck. Rezoning attempts will only hold for so long, Dunfermline needs new high schools - not only due to capacity but also due to age and longevity of some of the schools. For pupils to have access to state of the art facilities, technology and teaching classrooms geared up for the 21st century and in line with a focus on STEM subjects, the learning environment must prove to be conducive. We must keep pushing this issue.

On that note I will end this post. Below are extracts from today's Dunfermline Press including both mine and Cllr Ross's comments.





Kathleen

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Educational Governance & Local Accountability

Last month I wrote a post questioning the establishment of Regional Collaboratives in Scottish education and the democratic deficit they were likely to create. Under proposals, local accountability, on the part of local authority scrutiny would be effectively side-stepped from the equation as regional directors of these collaboratives would report back to Scottish Government quango, Education Scotland.

Three days ago Education Secretary, John Swinney dramatically appeared to call a halt to this direction of travel, albeit under ongoing concerns and enquiry from COSLA. In this post I will present a summary of where proposed governance of education is/was headed and the deep concerns that COSLA representatives expressed and then outline the new considerations and my thoughts on these.

Educational Governance

I wrote about this a few weeks ago and therefore, have taken some of that text and inserted it here, to read the full article please go to: http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2017/08/education-childrens-services-response.html . In September 2016, the Scottish Government began a review that sought views on how education in Scotland is run, on the back of that a paper (Next Steps) was published by John Swinney in June this year claiming that a “revolutionised approach” would be taken towards support and improvement in schools. As so often happens though the devil is in the detail and that is where it became interesting. On the one hand claiming to grant “sweeping new powers to headteachers” whilst on the other, and the reality, was that regional collaboratives would be set up and headed by a director who would report back to Scottish Government quango, Education Scotland. Fife (my local authority) would be netted in with the South East Scotland grouping – Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and the Borders. Local government would effectively be removed from the equation other than administrative responsibilities of providing support services, developing the provision of early years and childcare and appointing headteachers.

Predictably, and rightly, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) hit back at such proposals and stated that the creation of Regional Collaboratives was a “top down approach…not in the spirit of initial proposals by leaders” and that “Scottish Councils hold the statutory responsibility for the provision and delivery of education for performance and improvement of individual schools as well as cumulative authority…the “Next Steps” paper disaggregates the strategic leadership role of local government and proposes redistribution of functions, which has an impact on democratic accountability”.

Accountability at the local level to Councils and elected representatives would be, at best, diluted and would mean that rather than strengthening local government it would be cast by the way side and instead be ad continuum of this SNP Government’s policy of centralisation, as we have seen with the subsuming of regional police forces into Police Scotland (which has demonstrated to be a catalogue of disasters).

A further rebuff to local accountability with this proposal was that local stakeholders – parents and carers, were not consulted on their views on the demise of local accountability in regards to their children’s education. If they choose to challenge educational practice within their local authority where and to whom are they to go?

Local Government Counts

In what some may call a spectacular u-turn, it appears that Education Secretary, John Swinney has backtracked on his disliked and dysfunctional proposals. Instead the role of Regional Director will be reduced and Council leaders will appoint a lead officer – meaning reports will go to local authorities and their elected representatives, in addition to reporting to Scottish Government body, Education Scotland. COSLA spokesperson for Children and Young People, Cllr Stephen McCabe stated that: “Securing the best interests of children and young people is our driving goal in the integrated children’s services which local authorities deliver. We share an ambition with the Scottish Government for excellence and equity for our children.” http://www.cosla.gov.uk/news/2017/09/way-forward-improvement-focused-collaboration-education-agreed

Such a move is to be welcomed. Any moves to further remote local government from educational governance would mean a lack of accountability and transparency and distance not only elected representatives (who are the voices of local people) but parents and carers as key stakeholders in their children’s education.

Given the protracted difficulties with implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, the shambolic state of the National qualifications, teacher shortages, crashing numeracy and literacy against international scores and a failure to close the attainment gap one is left to wonder what other significant damage the regional collaboratives were likely to create? Or to the cynic, was this an attempt to create further distance between the people and holding government to account for deficits in policy?


Kathleen 




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