Highland pupils could be sent home early to save cash

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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Offices and schools could be closed from lunchtime on Fridays under proposals being considered by Highland Council with a view to making £8 million in savings,

The controversial plan has been put out for public consultation as the council looks to tackle a potential funding gap of more than £21m next year.

Officials have said that reducing the working and school week to 4.5 days would result in significant savings.

The plan has been suggested before but was firmly opposed by parents as the move could effectively cut teaching time for primary school pupils by 2.5 hours a week.

Highland Council said most staff would still be working their existing contracted hours, but doing so over 4.5 days.

Chief executive Steve Barron said: “It is important that to note that this is currently a proposal only, one which needs further work and which would only be implemented with the agreement of elected members in February.

“Clearly there will be some service areas where this could pose practical difficulties, hence the wish to consult and to think carefully about impact and feasibility.”

If approved, the council would close at Friday lunchtime and staff could either work their existing contracted hours in a shorter time period or reduce their contracted hours on a voluntary basis.

Budget leader, Cllr Bill Fernie, said: “At this stage this is just a proposal, but we think it is a good idea and one which compare very favourably with some of the other options coming forward, and we will be consulting widely.

“It is our priority to maintain services and jobs in Highland and, as such, this is part of a package of proposed measures, with the aim of setting a balanced budget, whilst protecting key services.”

Bob Coleman, of teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), has raised concerns about the plans.

He said: “The council has looked from time to time at cutting the primary pupil week and this might be an opportunity for the council to do that. We have always opposed cutting the pupil week in primary schools.

“From an educational point of view that would mean a significant loss of teaching time. It would amount to something like 19 days per session - seven months over a child’s primary life.”