Cuts of over £3.5 million across education and children’s services were approved by Fife Council at its meeting on March 27th, with a review of early years officer and attendance officer posts among the proposals agreed.
£1.4 million will be recouped through a review of devolved school management, which will include a review of the secondary school week. This follows a £1.49 million cut to the education budget in 2019/20 (see QV’s report, 22nd February, 2019)
Teachers have described the decision as “depressing and dispiriting” amid fears contact time with pupils will be cut and teaching unions fear that it will force more schools in Fife to move to a four-and-a-half day week or see morning registration – regarded as a key session to record absence or address problems – shelved completely.
David Farmer, EIS publicity officer, said the union agreed with the sentiments expressed by a number of elected members at the budget meeting that it was the “least worst” budget available but would be particularly hard-hitting for education.
He said: “The headline cut phrased as ‘review of devolved school management to include a review of the secondary school week’ again puts our members in secondary schools in the firing line, as they were last year with managing change.
“We have no idea what ‘review’ means here although we strongly suspect that part of it will be the removal of registration from secondary school timetables. For students most in need of support the removal of this point of contact and stability makes no sense. It makes even less sense when taken in tandem with a ‘review of attendance officers’. It will be the students most in need of support and their families who will be most impacted.”
Mr Farmer also said a review of how headteacher allocations are financed simply means the extension of shared headships, although the union said there has been “no clear interrogation” of how this has worked across schools in practice so far.
“If there is, Fife EIS have never seen it. Review seems to mean, if this saves money, let’s do it. We are still concerned about the cloak and dagger nature of the budget process this year. Should not every parent, every child, every teacher have the expectation to have known about this well in advance of the budget? We think so and will continue to think exactly that way.”
SNP councillor Fay Sinclair, convener of Fife’s education and children’s services committee, stated that trade unions had been given access to all budget options several months ago.
“For the items concerning education, I chaired an extra meeting of the Education Forum in December where representatives from both teaching and non-teaching unions were invited to discuss the detail and give their views.
“Many of the education savings accepted are realignment of budgets to represent true spend, including special education, the removal of three vacant attendance officer posts, and early years staffing, which sees numbers of early years officers increase at the January and April intakes.
“The budget passed includes almost £375 million spend in education and children’s services – an unprecedented investment in our children’s futures, including delivering 350 new jobs in early years in Fife.”
Picture: Fife Council HQ, Glenrothes