An ex-council leader has come under fire for collecting the free pencils handed out at a poverty conference so they could be used to resource a local primary school.
The conference organisers told Tes Scotland they were “stunned” and “taken aback” by the “odd request” from George Alexander, who was leader of Moray Council at the time of the event, but who stepped down from that role this morning after the collapse of the coalition that had been running the authority.
Mr Alexander – a former secondary teacher – gave the pencils, which had been provided by a local business and had #FairerMoray stamped on them, to a primary serving a deprived area.
Kathy Ross is chair of the Moray Foodbank which organised the conference, Tackling Poverty – Building a Fairer Moray.
Ms Ross said: “People did hand in their pencils, but it just seemed ironic that kids from the most deprived area in Moray were going to be given pencils with #FairerMoray stamped on them and we were unsure what they would make of them."
Professor John McKendrick – a poverty expert based at Glasgow Caledonian University – also attended the conference.
He said he did not think the move by Mr Alexander was “cynical” but added: “The fact that we even have to consider donating pencils should make us sit back and think, what do we want in terms of education? I don’t think this is the way we want to resource education, where the basics have to be met by way of a donation.”
Pencils 'put to good use'
However, Mr Alexander told Tes Scotland he was simply trying to put the free pencils to good use.
He said: “I attended many conferences and meetings during my brief time as council leader and at every one of these meetings the delegates were supplied with pens and pads which they invariably take away with them.
“On that occasion I felt that the pens could be put to better use, as indeed they were.”
The conference took place in February just after the council set its budget containing cuts of over £6 million.
But Mr Alexander’s actions only came to light yesterday on Twitter when Ms Ross – via the @MorayFoodbank handle - responded to a Tes Scotland poll about whether Scottish teachers have the tools they need to make the most of technology in the classroom.
A computing science teacher from Speyside High in Highland commented that “disparity between Las [local authorities] in Scotland is disheartening”. Some schools provided a device for every pupil but others did not even have access to an IT suite, said @SpeysideCS.
Ms Ross then revealed even pencils were in short supply in Moray schools.
At the poverty conference we held earlier in the year the council leader asked at the end if the pencils we had given out could be collected and donated to help resource a local primary school ...😧— Moray Foodbank (@MorayFoodbank) June 12, 2018
One of the Scottish government’s key priorities is to begin closing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.
However, opposition politicians and teaching unions have expressed fears that the millions of pounds being ploughed into schools by the SNP is simply being used to plug the shortfall created by school budget cuts.
Tes Scotland revealed earlier this year spending on education by councils in Scotland had fallen by up to 20 per cent over six years.
The figures showed that since 2010-11, real-terms spending per primary and secondary pupil had fallen by 9.6 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively, which translates as £513 less per primary pupil and £205 less per secondary pupil.