Falkirk Council is set for a bruising battle over major education cuts or mergers between now and February, as the administration seeks ways of saving £29m over five years.
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn insists the authority isn’t looking to reduce what local schools provide, and that there are no plans for compulsory redundancies among local teachers.
Her assurance follows yesterday’s Falkirk Herald story, in which details were revealed of the need to plan major savings by the end of February next year.
However Central Scotland Labour MSP Elaine Smith, also reacting to the Falkirk Herald story, said: “The sustained cuts being made to Falkirk Council by the Scottish Government are now clearly taking their toll as evidenced by the worrying letters that have been sent out from all the schools in the Falkirk area, advising parents of potential cuts in teaching staff”.
A letter sent to parents of Larbert High pupils from rector Jon Reid said to achieve the expected savings their school would have to reduce staffing levels and make savings of £503,407.
Mr Reid estimates this would mean the loss of more than 12 full time teaching posts.
Elaine Smith MSP said: “Having previously taught in secondary schools, I am very aware of the pressures our teaching staff currently face.
“Teachers are already having to buy supplies for pupils from their own pockets and already struggle to cover classes with the current staffing levels.
“The consequences of a teaching staff loss of this magnitude in our local schools, will directly impact on the results and aspirations of our young people and the Scottish Government must act now to prevent this happening.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s rhetoric of “Education being a top Priority” doesn’t appear to include Falkirk”.
In a report to councillors, Robert Naylor, director of children’s services, admitted: “There is no doubt that to achieve this level of savings children’s services will have to carefully manage radical restructuring, re-engineering, downsizing and re- prioritisation across all areas of current service provision within the context of both Council and national priorities and legislative frameworks.
“This level of budget savings cannot be met without having a direct and significant impact on schools.”
In a statement responding to news of the cuts, Councillor Meiklejohn said it was “deeply unfortunate” letters issued by head teachers had raised concerns among staff and parents.
She said: “I want to be crystal clear that we have absolutely no intention of impacting on the National Pupil Teacher ratio. That is simply not going to happen.
“No individual will lose their job, nor are we planning compulsory redundancies.
“What we are looking to do is change the way we deliver for pupils; we are currently working with teachers, parents and Trade unions to reduce costs but not reducing the options and opportunities available to pupils”.
She added: “This may well mean schools working more closely together to offer subjects between them.
“We need to find sensible ways to maintain and improve our schools within the budget we have available.
“We are asking the people who know our schools best – the teachers and parents – to help us.
“Clearly, these letters show that we still have work to do to help people understand our plans, and I am very sorry for the obvious concern that the Head teachers letter has caused.
“We will now increase our efforts to make sure we are clear that we are not looking to reduce what our schools do but work with all involved to find smarter ways to deliver.”
Members will consider feedback from the consultation process at the Education Executive on January 15, with final decisions to be taken at the Budget meeting on February 27 next year.