Tuesday February 21st 2023
Molly Gilmour from Lasswade High School and Calum Gibson from Newbattle High School address the council meeting.
Senior pupils from across Midlothian’s secondary schools warned councillors cutting their education budgets would be ‘catastrophic’ to future generations.
A delegation of 12 students from the county’s schools attended Midlothian Council’s budget meeting to make a direct plea to save staff today.
A one per cent education budget cut was agreed by councillors despite teenagers explaining what the cash reduction would impact.
Originally they were planning to speak out over the council’s initial proposals to axe 174 teachers over the next five years, however that decision was shelved after the Scottish Government said it would withhold additional funding if it went ahead.
Instead councillors planned to reduce the devolved school management scheme allocation to schools by 1 per cent to save up to £600,000.
The scheme is the funding provided to early learning and childcare, primary, secondary and special schools to cover the costs of staffing, educational supplies, staff development, property repairs, cleaning materials, excursions, copyright and other supplies with staffing accounting for 98 per cent of a schools budget.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation Molly Gilmour from Lasswade High School said that while one per cent may seem a small amount it would have “catastrophic consequences” on the school system.
Explaining what would be impacted, she said: “The extra curricular opportunities, the youth support the UCAS application support and the pod and nurture facilities we have in our schools, which we feel will not be able to run without the support we have behind the lines from those who are not just classroom based teachers.
“By eliminating these services, which we have learned to rely on, we feel there is no opportunity for change in our futures.”
The Lasswade student warned councillors: “Future generations coming out of Midlothian schools will be stunted in their growth.”
And she questioned why the council was pushing ahead with plans to spend £31 million on the “refurbishment of a ski centre”, saying “I feel this money should be placed elsewhere.”
Fellow student Calum Gibson, from Newbattle High School, also questioned a decision to withdrawn or reduce transport services for pupils with additional support needs.
He said: “Many pupils at my school rely on taxis. We are on a cost of living crisis where every penny counts. Knowing this, parents of these children will now have to pay for private transport.”
He also appealed to councillors not to cut free music tuition provision as a student who had benefited from it.
And he said of the one per cent cut to school budgets: “We recognise the council’s legal obligation to balance its budget but we, the young people of Midlothian, believe these cuts will have a catastrophic consequence on everyone’s lives.
“While we may be leaving school we know what it holds for the future for others and we are worried.
“We would like to end our statement with a quote from Malcolm X ‘education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
The questions over the decision to invest in Destination Hillend was repeated later in the meeting by Councillor Peter Smaill.
The ski centre venture has risen in cost since first approved in 2019 and now sits at £31 million.
In the report on cutting school budgets council officers acknowledge that “activities currently funded by schools such as, skiing at Hillend may have to cease because of the reduction in budget to schools.
“This would have an impact on the revenue and staffing required at Hillend.”
Councillor Smaill abstained from voting on the final budget telling fellow councillors: “I am concerned our budget does not reflect the reality of how Hillend is going to pan out.
“We are expecting £600,000 of income to help bridge the budget gap.
“I don’t believe it is prudent for it to be in this budget, the loan costs are going to be over £500,000 this year and £1 million next year.
“There is a material risk this is going to eat into our general revenue account.”
The council agreed not to axe music tuition or support to community transport but did agree to push ahead with the one per cent cut in school budgets.
Savings not approved will be brought before council again in June for review.
You can watch the pupils address the full council meeting in the video below.