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Anger as government cash for tackling attainment gap in Dundee used to balance council’s budget

Liberal Democrat councillors say the SNP administration is wrong to use Pupil Equity Funds to pay for school and family development workers.
Image: Shutterstock.
Liberal Democrat councillors say the SNP administration is wrong to use Pupil Equity Funds to pay for school and family development workers. Image: Shutterstock.

Opposition councillors in Dundee are angry that government funding to tackle attainment inequality in classrooms was used to balance the SNP administration’s budget.

The Liberal Democrat group say £420k of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) should not be used to pay for school and family development workers and that it should have come from the council’s core budget to “avoid schools losing out.”

According to the Scottish Government, PEF is “additional funding allocated directly to schools and targeted at closing the poverty-related attainment gap.”

The amount is 15% of the total PEF pot.

The decision to repurpose the funds was part of last month’s crunch budget which, among other decisions, raised council tax by 4.75%.

West End Liberal Democrat councillor, Fraser Macpherson, says the issue is “a point of principle”; party colleague, Michael Crichton, said it marks the “thin edge of the wedge”.

Councillor Fraser Macpherson.

The SNP administration rejected the criticism and the Liberal Democrat’s alternative budget funding suggestions.

A council document from 2013 defines school and family development workers as employed to provide: “preventative support and guidance and advice to parents and families to help deal with issues and problems.”

In January, the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups on the council both condemned a 79% drop in Dundee’s share of funding for the Scottish attainment challenge saying the SNP government are not listening to the city’s education needs.

‘Against spirit of devolving’

Mr Macpherson said: “We are very unhappy that the council centrally has swiped away 15% of local schools PEF to pay for school and family development workers, which is in our view, totally against the spirit of devolving the funds to head teachers, senior leadership teams in schools and school staff locally, in consultation with parent councils.

“Let’s be clear that school and family development workers do superb work but the £420k to pay for them should be paid for centrally from the children and families department core budget not taken away from schools locally.”

Councillor Michael Crichton, added: “It is a very disappointing result for PEF and local schools devolution on top of the other SNP cuts and nearly 5% council tax increase.”

‘Economic madness’

In response, North East SNP councillor, Willie Sawers, said: “The Liberal Democrat budget proposals would have forced the council into a further £3.821m of debt which they intended to spend all of in this forthcoming financial year.

“This debt of £271k per annum would have taken future Dundee residents 25 years to pay off. This is economic madness and not something that our fiscally responsible SNP administration would ever countenance.”

Councillor Willie Sawers
North East SNP councillor, Willie Sawers

‘Budget protected education’

Strathmartine SNP councillor Stewart Hunter added: “The administration group’s budget protected education at a time of significant financial challenges.

“Indeed, we have been able to include further investment of £19.5m for teachers and schools.”

Officers work closely with head teachers and schools to ensure that all resources available, including PEF, are used in the most appropriate way to continue to build on the excellent work our schools do”

‘Ongoing conversations’

The council’s chief education officer, Paul Fleming, told Mr Macpherson :

“We have 35 (full-time) school and family development workers in our service, most of whom provide targeted support for children and families (in our primary schools) affected by poverty.

“The PEF national operating guidance outlines how head teachers can work at an individual school level or collegiately in wider school clusters and beyond at local authority and regional improvement collaborative level to address common interests.

Therefore, we have been having ongoing conversations with all head teachers about our ‘Attainment Scotland Funding’ and how best to achieve our equity goals.”

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