Falkirk axe school registration class to save cash

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Morning registration at secondary schools will become a thing of the past, following Falkirk Council’s budget meeting yesterday (Wednesday).

Using an electronic system to record absences will free up the equivalent of 16.7 full-time teaching posts.

The move was condemned by Scotland’s largest teachers union, the EIS, which warned it could impact on pastoral care.

Local association secretary Colin Finlay said: “Removing school registration time, will have an immediate and direct negative effect on pupils.

“Registration in not simply ticking an attendance box.

“It’s the first line of contact between pupil welfare and wellbeing and their school day. This will be lost – with serious consequences.”

But council leader Cecil Meiklejohn says the pastoral care aspect of registration will be taken into account.

Money from the Scottish Government is putting mental health advisors into high schools.

“This will actually mean pastoral issues can be dealt with in a more confidential way than in a registration period,” she said.

The budget meeting took place against a backdrop of an extended consultation that had provoked fury when it was suggested that devastating cuts were on the way.

As it was, the SNP-led administation said it had protected children’s services - which education is part of – at the expense of other services.

The budget included an increase of 14 support for learning assistants, for primary schools at a cost of £200,000 and protected funding for a holiday food programme.

However, the word heard most often from all sides was ‘challenging’ – and cuts still very much dominated the agenda.

These included high schools losing their demographic growth provision – the equivalent of ten full-time posts.

The budget meeting also agreed to take teachers out of nursery classrooms and replace them with graduate childcare professionals.

The administration assured councillors that the 20 teaching FTE posts would be absorbed back into primary schools and insisted again there would be no compulsory redundancies.

Councillor Adanna McCue, the SNP’s education spokesperson, believes this saving actually has real benefits as it will bring graduates who are focused exclusively on early years into nurseries.

All of the early years staff costs will be met by the Scottish Government, which is currently expanding the service nationally.

In the year ahead an additional 90 early years officers are expected to join Falkirk Council’s workforce.

“For years early years professionals have been working hard to improve their qualifications and highlighting the fact it is a profession in its own right!” she said.

“The children will be educated by graduates who know exactly what they are doing!”

Councillor McCue also defended the adminstration’s decision to reduce music instruction across the district, which was challenged in an amendment put forwaard by the Labour group.

Labour’s new leader, Robert Bissett, said: “We do not want to see children’s opportunities to learn to play an instrument compromised in any way.

“Having an interest in music and learning to play an instrument increases concentration, boosts self confidence and gives a skill for life”

But Councillor McCue said that reviewing temporary contracts and reducing staffing to save the council £75,000 was a “re-organisation” and would not have a great impact.

She also suggested the headteachers could use the Pupil Equity Fund – which is give by the government directly to schools to be used as the headteacher sees fit – for music tuition where necessary.

And Councillor McCue also defended a change that Councillor Bissett suggested “out-Thatchered Thatcher”.

Referring to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s scrapping of free milk for all schoolchildren, he said the Labour Group was opposed to the proposal to stop giving children free milk or fruit juice and replace it with water.

But Councillor McCue said with so many children having allergies such as lactose intolerance the proposal made sense.

“This is a no-brainer,” she said. “It delivers £175,000 of a saving that can be used elsewhere.

“It will also reduce the use of plastic – all these wee cartons are single-use plastics.”

Other savings come from two schools with rolls under ten being mothballed.

Primary headteachers will lose a discretionary support that allows them, for example, to create an extra class if the school roll was to rise suddenly for any reason.

There will also be a review of provision for children with Additional Special Needs, with promises to make the service more efficient as they plan to educate pupils in local schools, rather than external provisions.

All of the savings were opposed by the Labour Group in their amendment which was defeated and dismissed as ‘grandstanding’ by SNP members.

Colin Finlay, of the EIS local association, said the big danger now lies in the cuts ahead.

He said: “This is only the beginning of cuts to schools and subjects. The reduction to curriculum choice will become a serious problem unless teachers, parents and pupils wake up to the Council’s cuts agenda.

“In Falkirk we’re looking at five long years of this.”