Parents' leaders fear 'two-tier' funding system

20th May 2011 at 01:00
They say haves and have-nots will be called on to plug gaps left by cuts

Parents' leaders are warning of a two-tier school system emerging in which some parents are seen as a "cash cow" to plug the gap created by education budget cuts and others haven't got the money.

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, has also protested that local authorities are making cuts without consultation with parents - despite recent legislation on parental involvement.

But she cautioned against assuming that parents, who already give huge support to schools, could be expected to solve staffing cuts too.

Her comments follow reports that Melrose Primary parent council in the Borders was considering funding a teacher's salary because staff numbers were being cut. Spokesman Jamie Buchanan, said this option - raised in a brain-storming session with Borders Council - had been sensationalised and was "not likely to happen". Parents are due to discuss other ideas, including changes to catchment boundaries and other ways to fund Curriculum for Excellence, he added.

Mrs Prior identified practical and legal difficulties if parents were expected to pay for a teacher:

- teachers' employers are the education authority, not the school;

- would a teacher paid for by parents be employed on the same terms and conditions?

- would parents have the right to select "their" teacher, when they have a subsidiary role in selection of heads and deputes?

Melrose Primary's staffing level is to drop from 14 to 13 teachers after the summer, because of council class-size rules and pupil numbers.

The parent council of a 54-pupil rural school in Fife also faces the loss of a teacher's post - but because of its size, cannot even contemplate paying a teacher's salary.

Colinsburgh Primary, near Leven, will have to move from three composite classes to two next year if, as expected, the roll falls to 48 - one below the magic number of 49 which guarantees staffing for three classes.

In the past, Fife Council would have given the school a period of grace to meet its target, but tighter budget controls meant this was no longer an option, said Judith Fryer, chair of Colinsburgh Primary's parent council.

The school, near Leven, received an outstanding HMIE report in March, with three "excellent" and two "very good" gradings.

"A year ago, if we had been only one pupil short and had an excellent HMIE report which recognised our community involvement, I think the council would have given us a transitional period," said Ms Fryer.

But the option of a period of grace was withdrawn by the council earlier this year because of budget constraints, confirmed Ralph Donaldson, education officer for the north-east of Fife. Operating joint headships had proved to be one means of sustaining teacher numbers in recent years, he added.

If Colinsburgh can boost its pupil roll to 49 before the end of term, it will be allowed to keep its current staffing level - if not, when pupils return in August, they will be split into two multi-composite classes. If a new pupil moves into the catchment area after August, he or she will have to attend another school, with the council paying transport costs.

"This is a pivotal moment for this school. If we don't manage to keep the third class, its long-term success is more uncertain," said Ms Fryer.

When the school lost its lollipop attendant as part of budgetary cuts, the parent council considered paying towards a replacement, but faced difficulties providing insurance. Instead, it set up a parent-run playground rota before school to let the janitor cover for the lollipop man.

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