Tuesday January 16th 2024
Plans to slash more than £8m of funding for Edinburgh’s schools have been described as “absolutely devastating” as the council is warned more education cuts will lead to pupils “suffering” and teachers “falling over with stress”.
The proposed cut, contained in a draft report going to the education committee next week, comes as the local authority looks to close a £20m funding gap.
Alison Murphy, secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland’s Edinburgh branch, has urged councillors to reject the move, saying school budgets were already “incredibly tight” as some teachers had to “bring in pens and pencils for the kids”.
She said: “With all the pressures schools have there is no way to spin this to say that schools can lose this and it is not going to have a material impact on pupils.
“We’ve already got a whole load of head teachers who are on the edge because they can’t cope with all the demands that have been made.”
Education convener Joan Griffiths said the proposal “shows just how desperate our financial situation is and how difficult our budget decisions will be next month”.
She said the council’s 2024/25 deficit had doubled since the Scottish Government announced its settlement for local authorities.
The draft report, shared with the Local Democracy Reporting Service ahead of its publication later this week, sets out a proposed £8.2m cut to devolved school management (DSM) funds. This is money given directly to head teachers to spend on anything from wages for additional staff to stationary and classroom supplies, IT equipment and basic school essentials such as photocopying and paper towels.
The report says the city’s education budget, which makes up almost one third of the council’s spending, ‘will also continue to grow with net investment of c. £9m in 2024/25′.
A group of head teachers from all sectors “met to agree these proposals” to “minimise impact on learning and key priorities,” it adds.
A breakdown of the total saving – which would be made over the next two years if approved – shows it would impact ‘funding to provide additional capacity’ (£2.2m), ‘additional non statutory funding provided over last three years to enhance both teaching and pupil support staffing levels’ (£2.4m), and a 1.2% reduction to overall DSM allocations (£3.6m).
The report says the measures “continue to protect additional funding sources such as Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), Wellbeing Hubs, Empowered Learning, Audit and Positive Action Monies and as previously noted would continue to ensure that Teacher and Pupil Support numbers are maintained within Scottish Government target levels”.
However Ms Murphy said the cut would be “absolutely devastating”.
She said: “We are front-line services, we are already picking up a huge amount of the slack because so many other services have already been cut to the bone.
“There is not a school in Edinburgh that isn’t doing work that four or five years ago would have been considered work of mental health, social work and other support services. But because they’re not there we’re doing it. So there are very few teachers who are actually just doing their day job of teaching.
“Schools cannot afford to lose that budget; DSMs are already incredibly tight.
“When you divvy that up as spend per head of what we have to spend on supporting the education of pupils in Edinburgh, in some schools it’s less than a pound a week.
“Teachers are already bringing in pens and pencils for the kids, it really is that basic in a lot of schools because there just is no more money. Even five years ago I knew of a member of staff in my school who – this is the insanity of it – he snuck in his own printer so he could print off colour worksheets to help his pupils. It’s even worse now.”
Asked what the impact of the cost-cutting measure would be, she said: “I suspect you will have even more head teachers resigning, taking early retirement, going off sick, falling over with stress because they are the people who are already being forced with making impossible choices.
“And I think pupils are going to suffer. Already we know pupils are suffering because we are not able to support them properly, so I think learning and teaching is going to suffer. You are certainly going to see efforts we are making to close the attainment gap suffer again.”
Ms Murphy said the cost of more cuts to schools would “follow and haunt the council for years”.
She added: “One child who is not properly supported acts out because they are not properly supported and ends up in secure accommodation – that will cost more than sending that child to Eton.
“If those kids fall through the cracks, the long-term costs are huge.”
In response the council said unlike other authorities Edinburgh’s schools have been protected in previous budget decisions over the years and that given its current financial situation, spending on education for children and young people now has to potentially face ‘managed reductions’ in line with its ‘goal to be financially sustainable’.
Cllr Griffiths, Labour convener of the education committee, said: “I’m really angry and frustrated that such a sensitive report has been leaked ahead of its publication later in the week. It’s clearly been done to cause alarm among the school community before any decisions have been made and I’ve asked the Chief Executive to carry out an investigation.
“This is a still a draft report containing officer recommendations but the very fact that we’re even considering these savings shows just how desperate our financial situation is and how difficult our budget decisions will be next month.
“We were already facing a budget shortfall of close to £60m next year and, following the Scottish Government budget, that now appears to be £10m worse than we anticipated.
“Local authorities have suffered a decade of continuous real term income cuts from central government and Edinburgh is no exception. In fact, we remains the lowest funded council per head in Scotland, despite the unique pressures which come with being Scotland’s capital city, our projected population growth and well documented housing emergency.
“We’ll continue to press for fair funding for our Capital city and our residents.”
Councillor Simita Kumar, the SNP group’s education spokesperson, said: “We now know Labour and their allies are proposing to take more than £8m out of our classrooms including early years and special sectors at a time when we need to protect investment in our young people.
“This is in spite of the SNP Government delivering an extra £14m for education in Edinburgh this year so what they’re doing is utterly unacceptable and unjustifiable.
“Labour have failed to provide any serious budget proposals and are now taking away funding from our kids. We won’t be supporting this, and now we know why Labour and their coalition partners were so keen to avoid consultation with the public. Residents and parents will rightly be furious at this betrayal of our young people.”Tweet Share on Facebook