An urgent plea has gone out to education secretary John Swinney to find a joint way of working with Fife Council to prevent proposed budget cuts in the region’s schools.
Fears have been raised about what impact savings proposals could have for Fife in recent weeks, with eight parent councils taking the unprecedented step of issuing a joint statement highlighting their concerns over the scale of the cuts suggested for 2019/20.
Alex Rowley, Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, has called on Mr Swinney to work with education officials to find a way forward without the need for cuts to the service.
He has also written to Fife’s executive director for education asking her to publish a “detailed outline” of cuts school-by-school and the impact they will have on pupils, teachers, teaching and learning.
“I am asking Mr Swinney as Cabinet Secretary for Education to work with Fife Council to explore how these cuts that are damaging frontline teaching and learning can be stopped,” he explained.
“I am pointing out that parents and pupils and teachers won’t understand when the SNP Government say there is no cuts to education and yet over £2.3 million is being taken out of the secondary school budgets.”
Mr Rowley added he believed his letter to Carrie Lindsay, Fife’s executive director for education, calling for a breakdown of cuts school-by-school was a “reasonable request” which should help to get “full transparency” around any savings proposals.
“On top of these cuts, we are now being told that the budget announced by the Scottish Government for Fife Council will mean a further £10 million of cuts to local services and that this will include education,” he commented.
“This cannot go on and the SNP Government need to pull their heads out the sand and address the funding crisis in education and local services.”
Mr Rowley’s comments come after the eight parent councils highlighted concerns that cuts would bring about reductions in core options, the provision of practical subjects, supply cover, the number of learning support teachers and classroom assistants, and the number of guidance teachers.
They also expressed fears about increased class sizes and an increased workload for teachers, the shortening of the school week and cuts to basic resources and building upkeep.
In response to Mr Rowley, a Scottish Government spokesperson suggested Fife’s investment in education had increased in recent years.
“Local authorities are responsible for setting school budgets and the latest figures show their spend on education increased from £4.95 billion in 2015-16 to £5.07 billion in 2016-17 – a real terms increase of 0.3%,” the spokesperson noted.
“Fife Council will receive over £674 million Scottish Government funding in 2018-19.
“It has set an education budget of £337 million for 2018-19 – an increase of over £6 million from the previous year.
“Moreover, with its decision to increase council tax by 3 per cent. Fife Council has £18.8 million more available to support day-today services, including education, this year compared with 2017-18, a real terms increase of 1.5%.”
Meanwile, Mrs Lindsay said she received Mr Rowley’s letter prior to Christmas and will reply in due course.