Thursday December 14th 2017
Lasswade High Schol Parent Council has written to Councillors regarding the proposed budget cuts.
Dear Mr Milligan, Councillors and Officers,
Lasswade High School Parent Council Response to Cuts 2018/2019
On behalf of Lasswade High School Parent Council, I write to set out our strong objections to many of the proposed cuts which will affect every pupil at Lasswade High School (LHS). As with many of the proposals set out in the “Shaping Our Future – a Programme for change” document it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community who will be hit hardest. This is unacceptable and the Council is urged to reconsider many of the proposed targets to alleviate the burden on this group.
There are 17 planned cuts which will effect Education and 13 of these will specifically effect High Schools. These are highlighted below:
Planned cuts effecting education
As a Parent Council, Five Parents attended one of the Public Meetings held at Midlothian House. The contents of that meeting were then discussed at our Parent Council Meeting. This letter has been circulated round the Parent Council which consists of 90 members. It has also been produced on the Parent Council facebook page to ensure maximum opportunity for input from Parents. Whilst impossible to represent all views in one document, please be assured this letter has been widely reviewed and discussed and revised following input from Parents.
It is accepted that cuts are inevitable. However the number of cuts effecting Education is unacceptable. Comments on specific cuts are undernoted.
Comments on specific cuts
Learning Assistants – Cutting Learning Assistants removes a vital support from some of the most vulnerable pupils in our school. Children with Additional Support Needs rely on this service. Staff rely on this additional resource as Learning Assistants have such a wide variety of roles in the classroom. Learning Assistants improve attainment across the whole class. Teachers cannot focus on teaching a class when they have a child or children who are not getting the support they need. Learning Assistants also have direct contact with parents and improve communication with Parents as a result. This takes the pressure off teaching staff. They assist in creating an environment conducive to the whole class learning and achieving.
Currently the Council fails to meet requirements on inclusion of all pupils having introduced significant cuts in this area over the last few years. The Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) is being used to recruit more learning assistants to improve attainment. This PEF resource will be negated by these proposed cuts.
Finally, it is very short-sighted to make significant cuts to the provision of learning assistants. This could have significant long term consequences for the Council in relation to failures to provide adequately for young people with complex needs. Costly Education Tribunal decisions could have a significant impact on the budget particularly if costs are awarded against the Council in respect of their failures. Furthermore there will be long term indirect costs as a result of the policy which will result in poorer long term outcomes for some of the most vulnerable in our community.
Libraries – Closing local libraries starves children of a vital opportunity to access not only books, but computers, activities such as coding workshops, and a free, safe space. At LHS, the library with its dedicated school librarian is used as specific subject time where Pupils learn to use resources, draft dissertations, and study. Pupils from a deprived background can use the resources and access homework on line. Edmodo and other teaching programmes are only accessible to some through this resource. Approximately 10% of pupils have no IT access at home. The library is a peaceful and safe space for pupils to study and it is well used before School commences and at the end of the School day. In this digital age, it is extremely short sighted to limit access to IT to pupils out with School hours.
Those attending the Public Meeting were stunned that the Director of Education, Communities and the Economy, Mary Smith was unable to guarantee that Schools with Public Libraries adjacent to them would retain this resource and couldn’t even commit to the library being retained during School hours.
The proposal of a single hub library for Midlothian is a short-sighted and wasteful cut which will affect all pupils but disproportionally effect those who have no IT access at home. It will significantly affect digital skills and learning. Libraries are vital community hubs and are crucial to digital learning and literacy.
Charging for instrumental tuition – Learning a musical instrument has a huge value for pupils and the wider community. It builds strong values around discipline and is conducive to wider learning. Music adds to the diversity and depth of the school and this cut will gradually erode music from State Schools in Midlothian. Music will become a skill accessed only by the privileged few at private schools.
Although the most disadvantaged will still be eligible for free tuition, there are many families who will not qualify and will not be able to afford the fees. The reduced fee structure in place prior to 2016 seemed to work reasonably well and whilst there was a drop off from the numbers when it was free, it was still accessible to many as evidenced by the successful Midlothian Concert held annually at the Usher Hall.
This new fee structure with a 300% increase in fees will reduce the opportunities to the privileged few. Many pupils who are not academic but excel at music will lose the opportunities and benefits playing an instrument provides. They will be disadvantaged significantly by this cut, their options limited further. This will dramatically affect the options of pupils in High School who take music and will result in the erosion of Music being taken to SQA levels. In the next 5 years, once this generation of Secondary School Pupils have departed education there is likely to be no functioning music departments which will negatively alter the fabric of the school and reduce options for many.
It is unacceptable that Music should be used as vehicle for increasing the Council income given the significant impact this cut will have.. It is being viewed cynically as a soft target to boost funds but this huge increase in fees will result in the uptake of music significantly decreasing which will detrimentally affect pupils and will therefore not generate the income anticipated. It is again a shortsighted cut with no impact assessment having been considered.
Finally why is it always music that is targeted in these cuts? Presumably because a charge can be levied which is not possible in PE or other areas of the Curriculum.
Cuts to janitorial staff – Janitors are a vital part of the school community and often contribute beyond their remit. They provide a vital service in maintaining the fabric of the school. Reductions to this service will have a huge impact on morale and discipline within our Schools. By maintaining the appearance of the School, vandalism is kept to a minimum and the building is respected. Once the condition of the School deteriorates, the respect for the building decreases and graffiti and damage returns. This is a well-known fact. This will have knock on effects on morale and discipline. Litter which is already a significant issue will increase. This will result in creating an environment which is not conducive to learning and good discipline.
Reduction in janitorial staff will have a direct effect on teaching staff who will be left with no choice but to take on jobs previously done by the janitors such as re arranging rooms and classroom spaces. This will reduce morale which is already at an all-time low in teaching as a result of years of cuts. School Events will be particularly effected.
Increasing charges for school meals – This proposal will hit hardest those who do not qualify for free schools meals but who cannot afford to pay the increase. This will have the effect of pupils going hungry or eating poor quality and high fat food from take away outlets outside of school. There is already high incidence of diabetes and obesity in Midlothian. Shrinking healthy options provided at school will hit the least well off most. 12% of our pupils receive a free school meal. A hot nutritious meal at school is sometimes the only hot meal they will eat in a day. School meal provision should reflect Eating Better Living Better guidance. Reducing hot meal provision to just soup in High Schools runs counter to this Guidance.
These cuts will erode the quality of children’s experience at school.
The cuts hit the most vulnerable and most deprived most.
The cuts will nullify the benefits of the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF)
The cuts run contrary to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Scottish approach known as GIRFEC – getting it right for every child.
It runs contrary the Scottish Ministers ambition: that Scotland is the best place to grow up and bring up children. “This is a high aspiration and one that will require all of us – politicians, parents, public services and the public – to play their part.”
It means the stated aim for Public Services in GIRFEC is not being met : “For public services our aim is to work in the best possible way to improve outcomes for all our children and young people. And to do so in a way that respects rights and encourages early appropriate help – not once issues have become too acute.”
By introducing all of these cuts it is impossible to see how the Local Authority can comply with the duties under Part 1 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 to ensure they are taking account of children’s rights and wellbeing in fulfilling their functions.
Closure of school libraries will contravene the plan and strategy for development and delivery of School libraries announced by the Deputy First Minister in November 2017.
The cuts highlighted in this submission are short sighted and the costly long term impact of them has not been calculated. The consequences have significant financial consequences which outweigh the short term gains. It is staggering that these have not been given the analysis and consideration that would be expected given the consequences for our young people.
Schools are vital to the future of our Country and our economy. It is essential that we educate well rounded, ambitious and focused pupils and that staff are supported and resourced. These cuts undermine all the Government policies mentioned above and will damage the education system for generations.
Lindsey M McGregor
Lasswade High School Parent Council