Schools and nurseries set to be hit by Edinburgh budget cuts

Union warns of 'long-term consequences' for city's children

Qualified teachers could be withdrawn from nursery schools across the Capital
Qualified teachers could be withdrawn from nursery schools across the Capital

SCHOOL budgets and nursery staffing are under threat as council chiefs search for millions of pounds in savings from next year’s budget.

It could mean fewer classroom assistants and less equipment in both primary and secondary schools and qualified teachers being removed from nurseries altogether.

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And today, a teachers’ leader warned such decisions would have a long-term effect on children in the Capital.

Edinburgh’s ruling SNP-Labour coalition is currently looking at proposals from officials on where they could cut costs ahead of agreeing the 2020/21 budget next month.

Two controversial measures which were proposed but later dropped in last year’s budget process are understood to be back on the agenda.

One was to slash the budgets given to headteachers to cover everything from classroom assistants to teaching equipment in their own schools.

The other was to withdraw qualified teachers from nursery schools across the city.

Alison Murphy, Edinburgh secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, condemned the move to revive the planned cuts as “incredibly short-sighted” and warned they would have long-term consequences for the city’s youngsters.

The cut in school budgets is projected to save £1.8 million over two years - £1.2m in 2020/21 and £600,000 in 2021/22.

But Ms Murphy said: “We already know that teachers are putting their hands in their own pockets to buy absolutely basic stuff like pens and pencils and rulers.

“We already know that huge amount of time is being wasted on teachers trying to do ridiculous things like ‘How small can we photocopy these sheets and still have anyone able to read them?’ or ‘How can we do this piece of work when we can’t buy the basic equipment we need?’

“We all want to get pupils enthusiastic about their work and meet the needs of every learner in front of us,. If we don’t have the resources, how are we supposed to do that?”

Reducing the number of classroom assistants would also risk breaking the SNP-Labour administration’s 2017 coalition agreement

The deal included a pledge to “increase the number of classroom assistants and support staff for children with additional needs to improve attainment and wellbeing”.

It is understood the proposals would see nursery teachers replaced by early years practitioners, though some teachers would be retained in local areas to give support. The cut would save £600,000 in 2020/21 and £300,000 in 2021/22.

Ms Murphy said: “Nursery teachers in nursery schools ensure that children have the best possible start, particularly as regards learning and teaching.

“We produced huge amounts of evidence last year about the unique contribution teachers in nursery schools can make to children being able to have a successful start in school.

“If you remove them and lose that then you’re best chance of closing the attainment gap is gone.”

She said councils faced an almost impossible task. “They are not being given the budgets to do the work they need to do.”

But she said: “We will continue to fight short-term cuts that will have long-term costs because of the impact on children for the rest of their lives if they cannot make the best possible transition into school.”

The council is due to agree its budget on February 20 - though the delayed UK budget, not due until March 11, could lead revisions later.

Council officials have drawn up their proposals based on assumptions which suggest the authority will have to find savings of up to £40 million.

Finance convener Alasdair Rankin said: “There are proposals which were made last year which are coming back for consideration again.

“These are proposals from officers who want to be able to say here is a suite of proposals and you don’t have to take all of them necessarily.”