Falkirk Council: Parents concerned over plans to cut school week

More than 20 parent councils in Falkirk have written to councillors to express their concerns about proposals to shorten the school week locally.
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If the plans go ahead, Falkirk pupils will finish school at lunchtime on Fridays, reducing the school week from 25 hours per week to 22.5 hours per week in primaries and from 26.6 hours per week to 24.75 in secondaries.

The proposals – which the council is calling ‘the asymmetric week” – would mean a cut of ten per cent of teaching time.

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The council had intended to include the proposal as part of this year’s budget, saying that savings must be made to bridge the £60 million gap between spending and income the council faces.

Parents are concerned about proposals to cut the school week. Pic: Adobe stockParents are concerned about proposals to cut the school week. Pic: Adobe stock
Parents are concerned about proposals to cut the school week. Pic: Adobe stock

But they were warned in a letter from the Education Minister in Holyrood that this would not be acceptable and withdrew the proposals.

However, at the budget meeting in February, members did agree to press ahead with a consultation that could allow them to make the change in the future.

The letter expressing concern about the consultation was signed by 21 parent council chairs over the weekend and sent to councillors ahead of yesterday’s (Wednesday) full council meeting.

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The senders stress that the text was only agreed and circulated at the weekend, so not all parent councils had a chance to agree it in time for the meeting, and more names are expected to follow.

At the moment, they have asked that the signatories and schools are not named individually.

They stress that they want to work with the council and be involved in decision-making, accepting that the council is in a difficult financial situation.

The letter states: “As parents and carers we want to be involved in a wider conversation with the council about what the various options for delivering budget savings are, and what the consequences of these could be including for children with Additional Support Needs.

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“This would allow us to work together to find solutions that delivers the necessary savings, whilst maintaining educational attainment and minimising the negative impact on children, families and communities.

But they believe that a wider debate on the proposals is necessary before any meaningful consultation starts.

The letter states: “The ‘asymmetric week’ idea needs to be fully worked up as a proposal before a wider consultation takes place, with details of how this model can actually deliver savings over the medium to long term and what changes that would mean for our children’s education.

“A debate at the education, children and young people’s executive could contribute to this by providing cross-party scrutiny and the opportunity for parent councils to send a delegation.”

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Independent councillor Laura Murtagh says the letter shows the depth of concern there is among parents and she told her fellow councillors that she now intends to call for a special council meeting to discuss the matter.

She was deeply disappointed that the matter was not considered by the council’s education, children & young people’s executive, which was cancelled last week.

“Given we have taken much less significant proposals to committee for development and approval prior to consultation, it seems highly illogical that we would not do this with the most significant proposal I can remember in recent years,” she said.

Councillor Murtagh unsuccessfully tried to get the matter debated at yesterday’s meeting but was advised this was not possible as the decision to go to consultation had been made less than six months before so cannot be revisited.

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But she believes decision to go ahead with the consultation was based on an “inaccurate and inadequate equalities assessment which did not match the proposal text in the budget report”.

The former SNP councillor – who was once the administration’s education spokesperson – previously tried to get the proposal removed entirely from the budget, but this was not supported.

She now says the “only course of action now available”, is to requisition a special council which votes by a two-thirds majority to hear the motion.

“I will be asking all other members of the council to support this, especially given the depth of feeling among the parent body in wanting a full and proper consideration and development of this proposal, prior to it going to consultation.

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“In my view, it’s too important an issue to let rest and I will be pursuing all available avenues to make sure parents’ voices are considered in full.”

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “A consultation on the asymmetric week will commence shortly.

“This will include full information to parent councils and engagement with all relevant stakeholders, supported by an online survey.

“In the meantime, correspondence is being issued to parent councils to update them on the proposed engagement.”