HIGHLAND Council’s administration has performed a U-turn on highly controversial proposals to reduce the school week at primary schools in a bid to make major savings.
The local authority, led by a coalition of SNP, Labour and Lib-Dems, had proposed cutting teaching hours for primary school pupils from 25 hours to 22.5 hours.
The council, which is attempting to make £64 million savings over the next four years, has however removed the proposal from its budget proposals following widespread opposition.
In a statement they say they have decided to remove the proposal from 2015/16 to allow further work on the detail and to minimise any impact on schools.
Budget Leader Maxine Smith, who previously claimed cutting teaching hours could actually improve the development of pupils, said: “We are currently considering the responses to our consultation and listening carefully to what people are saying and early feedback suggests there are major concerns regarding the primary school week.
“I understand that this is now being discussed in other Local Authorities in Scotland, so as this is now a national debate it is only sensible for us to consider further.
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“We would therefore like to take more time to review all the implications and any national recommendations, before proceeding.
“What must remain clear, however, is that we still need to find savings to close the budget gap over the next four years if this proposal is ultimately discarded.”
The council will publish its full budget savings proposals at the end of next week for presentation to the full council on 18 December.
Previously, Councillor Smith said studies suggested pupils would benefit from the 30 minutes-a-day additional play time and felt people had “gone crazy” over the proposal, part of a package of suggested measures to help Highland Council save £64 million over the next four years.
She stated: “It is not a big deal. If your child had chicken pox and had to be off school for two weeks, would it suffer for the rest of its life? Of course it would not.”
Her comments were rejected by teaching union the EIS, which insisted there would be a reduction in the quality of education children received.
“From our point of view we cannot see any benefit at all,” said Highland secretary Bob Colman.
“It will have a long-term damaging effect on education. Councillor Smith is entitled to her opinion, but we cannot support the cuts. A lot of parents are very concerned and rightly so.”
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