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Cuts that handicap 'city of learning'

Two councils brought pupils face to face with local policy-makers last week. John Clark and Neil Munro report.

Aberdeen declared itself a "city of learning" last Friday as headteachers, parents, pupils, officials and councillors met to plan the future against a background of straitened budgets.

James Wyness, the city council's education convener, delivered a brutally frank assessment of this year's cuts which had reduced the education budget from Pounds 95 million to Pounds 88 million. "We have created hardship and reduced the quality of learning in many areas," Mr Wyness said. "There are no holy cows left now."

Next year could bring compulsory redundancies, further cuts in devolved budgets which would mean passing responsibility for unpalatable decisions to headteachers, and contracting with outside agencies to run community education. The Labour-led council might even have to renege on a manifesto commitment to open up nurseries to more three-year-olds.

John Stodter, the city's director of education, found comfort from the positive changes that had occurred, particularly in the way pupils were treated. "The investment which has been put into achievement, ethos, praise, pupils' transition points, anti-bullying strategies and so on has been the single most important reason for the improvements that have taken place in the hard measures of attainment and exam results."

Mr Stodter said the development of "entitlements" for pupils and their parents was a fundamental requirement for the future. "This would not be a long list of rights but a charter which would answer pupils' key questions: what will I learn, how will I be treated, what will all of this enable me to do?" Mr Stodter had four other "operating principles" to offer in addition to entitlement. These were maximum participation in education, the inclusive education of all pupils at their local school, which meant "minimal use of exclusion", progression and continuity for all pupils, and promoting diversity by tackling inequalities.

The Aberdeen director told The TES Scotland that improving the transition from primary to secondary was a key message from the conference for his department. This would require a clearer understanding between primary and secondary teachers.

It also implied a review of the structures in upper primary and lower secondary so first-year pupils are not suddenly confronted by 20 teachers instead of one.

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