Parents voice anger over £29m savings shock for Falkirk schools

Council leader  Cecil Meiklejohn says the authority is working to reduce costs - but not the options and opportunities available to children
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn says the authority is working to reduce costs - but not the options and opportunities available to children

The Falkirk Herald’s report that letters from head teachers are warning of the need to save £29million over five years has sparked an angry storm of comment from readers.

In Westquarters one family has posted protest posters on fences, while a Save Falkirk Schools social media venture claims thousands of supporters.

Several local residents say “cuts” are at odds with what is seen as an unrealistic readiness to approve new housing ventures in school catchment areas, so adding to the number of children in schools,

Central Scotland MSP Elaine Smith said the need for major economies in schools already under pressure means that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s “rhetoric” about education being the top priority “does not apply to Falkirk”.

However reader Phillip Galloway argues some of the problem is due to the private finance initiative schemes originally signed up to by Labour.

Commenting on social media, he said: “It’s shocking that councils are having to do this.

“Education for children is absolutely vital for the future well being of our country and population.

“A suggestion I would put forward would be the government to re-negotiate PFI contracts in place.

“This is difficult, I accept, but if private consortium’s resist then a system of taxation (upper level) could be introduced to tax profits with the resulting income earmarked for schools and hospitals (the main programmes used)”.

Reader Katie Gibson argues that if the assurance that “no job losses are planned” is borne out this means there will be no backfilling of vacant posts - and that this amounts to “cuts”.

She also argues it’s “a disgrace shifting the responsibility of financial cuts to head teachers, who will then be individually blamed for educational shortcomings”.

A BBC report of the council’s dilemma makes the point that head teachers are individually contemplating potential savings because recent changes to the system mean they are now being given more responsibility of assets.

In other words a mechanism designed to give head teachers more independence has, it’s said, automatically handed them decision-making aspects that wouldn’t have applied before.

News of the council’s looming struggle to balance the books on education comes in the same week as aa blunt warning from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) that community assets such as community centres and libraries may face closure in next year’s Scottish Budget.

At the same time teachers want a ten per cent pay rise to make up for years of austerity - which they are unlikely to receive in a single increment.

For the first year of the cuts secondary head teachers are being asked to identify £2.5 million of cuts for the 2019-20 session, while primary heads are to find £1.8 million of savings.

In his 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.”

Council leader Cecil 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”.

A key meeting in January will consider the options, ahead of the council budget being finalised in February.