Last month we made a number of Freedom of Information requests. We have now received a partial response to our request for correspondence between Mr Bloomer and Argyll & Bute Council. The following items give some useful background to the thinking behind the drawing up of the consultation documents and Mr Bloomer's suggestions for the conduct of the statutory public meetings. In some cases the emails refer to attachments which we have not received, we have asked for a review of the decision not to supply the attachments in these cases.
Now that the revised "draft" proposals have been revealed, we might have hoped to see some of the major errors corrected. However, while on first inspection, there only appears to have been minor tweaking at best, new errors have been introduced. The documents are not even consistent between themselves. For example :
Review of Education Provision Salen and Lochdonhead Primary School (as published 19/11/2010 - available here)
BUT in REVIEW OF THE SCHOOL ESTATE – Financial impact - (Appendix 2) - (as published 19/11/2010 - available here)
Which is right? Certainly it is nowhere near the most significant discrepancy in the documents, but it amounts to nearly £200,000 over the council's chosen frame of reference. When the future of so many communities lies in the balance, attention to detail would seem appropriate.
Alternative title “Can they possibly make it any worse?”
As outlined below, John Swinney today announced the Scottish Government's plan to tackle next year's Scottish Budget and the cuts imposed by the reduction in Block Grant.
The major items affecting Argyll's proposals to close over 20 rural schools are.......
If, as is rumoured, the new proposals have already been prepared on the same basis as the original reports, it is likely they will:
From the Scottish Government:
A deal with COSLA and an agreement with universities and colleges has protected teaching jobs and student places, despite the tough decisions that have had to be taken on spending, Education Secretary Michael Russell said today.
The majority of education spending is part of the local government settlement which is held by local authorities who are seeing a cut of just 2.6 per cent in their budget. The central education budget will reduce in revenue terms by 6.8 per cent while the capital budget falls by 28.9 per cent. A total reduction of £233.8 million produces a budget of £2583.6 million for 2011/12.
The savings, to be achieved primarily by cutting bureaucracy and tackling inefficiency, will enable teaching jobs to be protected by securing vacancies for the number of teachers finishing probation in 2011 and a further real reduction in longer term teacher unemployment as agreed with the COSLA leadership.
Protecting frontline services allowed the Scottish Government to:
* agree with colleges and universities that the total number of student places will be protected
* save the educational grants for school pupils (Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs)) which were cut south of the border
* maintain pupil teacher ratios in P1 to P3 as part of agreement with COSLA
* create a new Early Years and Early Intervention Fund, with start-up funding of £5 million
* guarantee existing levels of living costs support for students in college and university
* protect the main research excellence grant for universities in cash terms
Other Budget priorities include providing £20 million for Scotland's Schools for the Future to maintain our commitment to building new schools across Scotland.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said:
"We have worked very hard with our partners in local government, further and higher education, the unions and public bodies to look at every possible way of making savings by targeting duplication, non-priority work and inefficiencies. This is where we have cut first to protect frontline education services and the money in students' pockets.
"The budgets for the Scottish Funding Council, Learning and Teaching Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Skills Development Scotland have reduced but without detriment to access to higher or further education, the number of core university and college places, the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence or support for the unemployed.
"The agreement with COSLA on teacher employment is a significant achievement. The 2,800 probationary teachers leaving education training this year will have the same number of job opportunities available to them. More jobs will also be created so we can make a significant contribution to tackling longer term teacher unemployment.
"Equally, colleges and universities have agreed to preserve the same number of college and university places and the Scottish Government has ensured every student from school, college or university can access university based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay.
"Tough decisions did have to be taken but we have worked with the sectors, local government and unions to secure spend in priority areas to support economic growth.
"We remain committed to giving every child the best start in life, raising standards in teaching and learning, providing strong and better learning opportunities for school leavers, protecting access to education on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay, and supporting skills development that benefits current and future workforces."
The reduction to the Education and Lifelong Learning budget is £233.8 million. The resource budget for the Education and Lifelong Learning portfolio will reduce by £168 million and capital budgets by £65.8 million.
In addition - in the Local Government & Communities Statement:
Education - Maintaining the commitment to delivery of the outcomes for children and young people and to implementation of the Early Years Framework and Curriculum for Excellence: maintaining the pupil-teacher ratio in P1-P3; protecting the number of teacher posts; working jointly with teacher unions to find a way forward on teachers' pay and related issues that will ensure delivery of objectives in this area and control total pay costs
Over the last few days SRSN has being going through the proposal documents, in conjunction with the council's staffing formula, and tabulating the implications for teacher numbers and class sizes in each group of closures. This information can be seen here
This information is provisional, and will be updated as more detail becomes available. However it is immediately clear that in nearly every case, children from the closing schools will be going into much larger classes, and that a very substantial number of teaching posts will be lost - at least 31 FTE (full time equivalent) out of a total of 57 FTE currently employed in the closing schools. In many cases there also substantial class size increases for the receiving school's children.
Over the next few days we will be using this information to look at a number of issues in much more detail.
With a wholesale (but unsupported) attack on the ability of Argyll & Bute's small schools to deliver the curriculum, and current teaching staff unable to speak out, it is immensely helpful to hear from a recently retired head teacher - on this subject and on the validity of the occupancy figures made so much of the the council. In a letter to The Buteman (full story and letter here) Mr Brian Davidson, Head Teacher at North Bute for 21 years until 2008 writes:
Mr Davidson goes to write:
We make no apology for returning to the subject of Argyll & Bute Council's claim that the proposed raft of school closures is all about saving money from property costs of small schools spread across the countryside. Sandy Longmuir points to the following sentence from para 3.3 on the opening page of the Financial Impact document:
The document then goes on (page 8) to give the total savings breakdown:
Even before taking in to account the additional transport costs or GAE reduction, the staff savings are over 3 1/2 times the property savings, after allowing for these claimed savings arise from ENTIRELY FROM STAFF REDUCTIONS - at least 31 full time equivalent teachers (before taking Parklands staff losses into account) .
It is extraordinary that within the same document the council first claims that the majority of the savings come from property costs and then clearly lays exactly opposing facts. It suggests a breathtaking level of cynicism where documents that are obviously nonsense can be published, safe in the knowledge that the readership of the documents is of no consequence.
St Kieran's is a denominational school in Campbeltown.
According to para 2.5 of the closure proposal document the school roll was 5 in the year 2009/10 ,and 0 in 2010/11. Para 2.5 goes on to say "St Kieran’s is now empty due to voluntary transfer of the remaining children to Castlehill and Dalintober."
HMIE inspected the school in November 2009, when there were six pupils.
The first minor confusion occurs in para 4.24 which states "St Kieran’s has had no pupils for the last two years and has had no community lets during that time."
Moving on, Para 3.3 states that the cost per pupil of St Kieran's is £125,908 - odd with no pupils but ...
Para 4.27 claims that the reduction in staff costs resulting from amalgamation of St Kieran's (no pupils) with nearby Castlehill (187 pupils) will be £161,873 annually. After allowing for administrative, janitorial and catering staff costs, this equates pretty well to a saving of three full time teachers.
Given that there are no pupils at St Kieran's and no resulting change in pupil numbers at Castlehill, what are these teachers doing at the moment?
The answer of course is that there are not three staff posts (nor £161,873 pa) to be saved from this amalgamation at all. The council had allowed for there being a few pupils at St Kieran's in 2010/11 - but as explained, they have already gone elsewhere, but 1.35 FTE (full time equivalent) teaching staff + support staff were budgeted for - but are not in fact now required. At the same time (but in no way dependent on this process) the council plan to reduce the number of classes at Castlehill from the current 9 to the 7 shown in para 3.7.
The claimed staff saving of £161,873 from the St Kieran's closure (a significant proportion of the £1.9m claimed for the whole Education Review) has either already been saved, or arises from changes un-related to the proposals - this is a phenomenon which we have seen elsewhere in these proposals, and to which we will return.
Lodged on Thursday, November 04, 2010
3. Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take to prevent the closure of rural primary schools in Argyll and Bute. (S3O-11761)
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Michael Russell): Argyll and Bute Council is responsible for decisions on school closures in its area, in accordance with legal requirements, and the democratically elected local councillors will be accountable for the decisions that they take. As members will be aware, the council has postponed its decision and has asked officers to complete further work on the proposals.
Jamie McGrigor: I am glad to hear that. Is the cabinet secretary aware of the anger felt by parents and communities throughout Argyll and Bute at the council's shocking plans to close 26 primary schools? Many of those people are already questioning the basis for the proposals and whether the council has genuinely explored all the other options before considering what should be the last resort of closure. Does he agree that rural primary schools such as Southend, Glenbarr, Barcaldine, Keills, Ulva, Luing and all the others are fundamental to the socioeconomic fabric of fragile rural and island communities and that government at all levels should be working to support them? Finally, will he assure local parents that he is doing so?
Michael Russell: I am very pleased that the 2010 act, which members unanimously supported, empowers parents in precisely these circumstances and that that empowerment is being assisted by other groups. I pay tribute to the Scottish National Party group on the council, which decided to press the other councillors for a delay, and I am glad that the councillors agreed to it. I praise the rural schools network on its information campaign, which has laid bare some of the arguments on the importance of providing information, and the website forargyll.com on its tremendous job in bringing together information. Most of all, I praise the communities themselves. They need to know about the rights, protections and defence that they have through the 2010 act, which, as I say, was introduced by this Administration. When any such proposals are made, they should be well-informed proposals of last resort. Even then, communities have substantial rights that they should know about, and I am taking steps to ensure that that information is available to every rural community in Scotland.