Teachers victims of underfunding

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Renfrewshire Council accused of `reducing its education provision to a bare minimum'

Foreign language assistants and peripatetic learning support teachers have become some of the latest victims of Renfrewshire Council's highly- charged budget cuts.

The council has done away with its provision of five modern language assistants, and their services will be replaced by technology.

Two-thirds of its 30-strong network of peripatetic learning support teachers is being absorbed into mainstream staffing in primary and secondary schools. Headteachers can use them to provide learning support, as primary class teachers or as subject teachers in secondary. The remaining 10 learning support specialists' jobs will go over this year and next, said a spokesman. He said the service had always been "additional" to core services.

The SNP-led council, which appears to be developing into a test case of the Scottish Government's concordat with local government, agreed pound;2.2 million worth of "service efficiencies" in education at its most recent education policy board meeting. These include a cut in teacher numbers (saving pound;216,000 in secondary and pound;187,000 in primary), business support officers (pound;172,000), clerical staff (pound;98,000), community learning and development staff (pound;95,000), classroom assistants (pound;92,000), management of the homelink service (pound;104,000), instrumental music tuition cuts (pound;143,000) and the reallocation of peripatetic learning support staff to mainstream teaching posts in primary and secondary (pound;238,000).

The Educational Institute of Scotland has accused the council of "reducing education provision to a bare minimum". Lachlan Bradley, its area officer, said: "We are not unsympathetic to the fact that there is not a lot of money there." However, the union was finding it difficult to negotiate with the council. His main concern was that the council was using falling rolls as an excuse to cut budgets and teacher numbers - not to reduce class sizes.

Wendy Alexander, Paisley North MSP and former Scottish Labour leader, says Renfrewshire teacher numbers have fallen because the council has chosen to underfund education. "In both its budgets under the SNP for 2008-09 and 2009-10, education failed to get its fair share of cash coming to Renfrewshire," she claimed.

"In both years, large `efficiency savings' were forced on education. Many hit the frontline and led to the loss of teachers. The combined effect of the last two budgets is to take pound;8.8 million (pound;6.4m + pound;2.4m) out of education budgets in 2009-10."

She also estimates that Renfrewshire has cut 122 teachers' jobs, making it the third worst authority in terms of cuts - behind Glasgow City (185) and Aberdeen City (140). Lorraine Cameron, the SNP convener of the council's education policy board, counters that teacher numbers have fallen by 84, not 122.

Renfrewshire's pupil teacher ratios have also worsened in the last two years, Ms Alexander says. It now has an overall ratio of 14.4 teachers to one pupil, putting it just behind East Ayrshire with 14.6, and has the worst secondary school pupil teacher ratio - 13, up from 12.1. The Scottish average in the secondary sector is 11.8.

Councillor Cameron argues that the council's performance should not be measured solely against teacher numbers. "There's a need for a more genuine debate about priorities and outcomes rather than maintaining every aspect of every service," she said.

"Against that background, in 2008 the performance of looked after children improved by 17 per cent in English and maths at SCQF Level 3 (Access 3 and Standard grade Foundation). Renfrewshire's performance at Standard grade was 2 per cent above the national average and 4 per cent above comparator authorities."

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