Proposals to cut the pupil week
Schools in Scotland are controlled by our thirty-two local authorities. Local Authority budgets have been under pressure for a number of years. As a result, the amount of money committed to schools and education has been reducing. It is predicted that budgets will continue to reduce to a low point in two or three years time. Local authorities have started to think the previously unthinkable…
West Dunbartonshire Council recently announced (and due to objections from parents and class teacher unions, stepped back from) plans to shorten the pupil week for primary pupils http://bit.ly/1EL70qw. It is not the first Scottish Local Authority to make this proposal. Indeed, it is likely that many more local authorities will make similar proposals in the coming year.
As the first of these proposals to shorten the pupil week emerged last year, AHDS surveyed members on the issue. This is not a proposal which would normally find any favour with school leaders and, understandably, there was a very wide range of opinion expressed but we found that:
- Only 28.5% felt this was an unacceptable cut when considering alternative cuts that could be made. 59.5% agreed it was acceptable (with the remainder expressing no view).
- 93% felt that if a shortened pupil week was to be implemented it should be across the whole school rather than one/some stages.
There has been a big backlash against the Councils making these proposals but I believe that outrage directed at Councils is a little simplistic. Councils must work within the budgets they are given by Government. Despite what some commentators in Scotland would have you believe, they are not the enemy. Not a single Council in Scotland will be celebrating the opportunity to put forward such proposals. Similarly, it is difficult to justify transferring that outrage to the Scottish Government – even if you disagree with some of their spending priorities it is clear that they have been faced with considerable budget pressure and have to live within their means. In short, the Scottish public sector needs to make cuts whether it wants to or not. To pretend that all services can continue as they were, or to offer more, is a bit like The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The reality of the situation is that there are several factors coming together to create a real problem for schools at the moment.
- There have been budget reductions year on year for several years – with more significant cuts promised in the years ahead.
- There are significant primary teacher shortages in many local authorities with several reporting considerable numbers of unfilled teaching vacancies.
- The knock-on effect of the teacher shortage is that there are very few supply teachers available which means that school leaders are plugging the gap when teachers are ill or at training, sometimes by taking classes well beyond teachers’ contractual limits or multiple additional assemblies.
- Scottish class teachers are contracted to have pupil contact for 22.5hrs a week while pupils have a 25hr school week. This, combined with teacher shortages, means that school management teams often find themselves in class to release class teachers for planning and preparation.
- School leaders are then turning to their own duties at the end of the school day and are working extremely long hours in an effort to meet all the demands placed on them.
- In recent years several local authorities have reduced the management time available for school leadership teams.
- Most, if not all, local authorities have cut their head office staff to the bone with the result that more and more is being added to the ‘to do list’ of head teachers.
- The Government has committed to protect class teacher numbers with the result that other elements of education – such as management time, administrative support and training budgets – will most likely be cut more significantly.
- Introducing our new, and bureaucratic, policy for assisting children who are vulnerable or have additional needs (‘Getting it Right For Every Child) and trying to keep up with expectations to continue apace with the introduction of our revised curriculum are extremely challenging in these circumstances.
Reducing the pupil week so that it aligns with the teacher week would:
- Immediately improve the availability of staff for vacancies and supply positions.
- Make the various change and improvement agendas more manageable for schools and school leadership teams.
- Save local authorities money.
The reduction in the pupil week is not something AHDS would want under normal circumstances. However, the budget situation means savings must be made. These proposals seek to preserve quality and capacity for development. Clearly there would be an impact on teaching hours for pupils and potentially an impact for parents but our system is creaking badly at the moment and we need to be address it in some way.
So, in short, it is very disappointing that Councils are being forced to look at proposals such as these in an effort to make ends meet. But with education forming such a large portion of local authority budgets, and with those budgets under such pressure, the stark reality is that cuts are coming and if not this change then what are the alternatives?