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11th July 2008 at 01:00
Aberdeen Council's education budget deficit puts groundbreaking French programme at risk

Aberdeen Council's education budget deficit puts groundbreaking French programme at risk

A unique French immersion programme for Aberdeen primary pupils, acclaimed by the Schools Minister, is at risk of being axed because of the local authority's pound;27 million budgetary deficit.

The future of the EPPI (Early Partial Primary Immersion) programme at Walker Road School, said to be the only one of its kind in the UK, was one of a number of projects discussed at two meetings of Aberdeen City Council's project evaluation board last week to pinpoint potential savings from the education budget.

The board is understood to have deferred a decision on the pound;110,000-a-year EPPI programme to allow time for additional information to be gathered. A city council spokesman said that "no decisions have been reached on the funding of the EPPI programme".

Pupils from P1-7 at the school, in Aberdeen's Torry area, are taught a variety of subjects through French, including PE and art, by teachers who are native speakers.

By the time they reach P7, 11-year-olds can understand a level of the spoken language which most Higher French pupils would find a struggle, according to the evaluation report by Richard Johnstone and Robert McKinstry of the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching at Stirling University.

At the launch of the evaluation report in April, Schools Minister Maureen Watt described the project as "une veritable reussite" (a real success) and said that developing competence in modern languages would make a valuable contribution to the Government's key aspirations for Scottish education.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said this week: "Seven years of direct Scottish Government funding of this project came to an end last summer, as originally agreed, when the original cohort from P1 completed their primary education.

"The Government's role now is to promote the sharing of findings and key learning outcomes from the project as widely as possible so that there is a wider, national benefit to Government support for the project.

"Under the terms of the concordat, it is now for Aberdeen City Council to consider future support for the project and to decide how to allocate its funding according to local priorities."

Meanwhile, another project, which funded eight teachers as part-time home- school link workers in some of the city's most deprived areas, is also at risk of losing its pound;150,000 funding.

Behaviour support and learning support teachers have already lost their ring-fenced funding and been subsumed into the core staffing allocations of schools.

Grant Bruce, Aberdeen area secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "My fear is that eventually the number of exclusions will start to rise because the needs of pupils are not being met."

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