Budget cuts force council to consider four-day school week

North Aryshire council has confirmed it is considering changing to a four-day school week in an attempt to save money, reports Ed Jacobs.

A Scottish local authority has confirmed it is considering changing to a four-day school week in an attempt to save money. The suggestion follows the passing of last week’s budget by Labour-led North Ayrshire council which included £8.9 million of “efficiency” savings to be implemented over the financial year 2011/12. It forms part of a longer term package up to 2014 designed to plug the 12-18 per cent of funding cuts the council expects to face to its financial support from the government.

It is thought that the move could save £2 million, with the council’s corporate director of education Carol Kirk explaining:

“North Ayrshire Council this week approved a balanced budget for the forthcoming year (2011/12) and noted indicative budget requirements for the following two years (2012-14). The indicative requirements for the financial year 2013/14 included a wide range of early options which may be considered by the council in the coming years. No decisions have been taken on these options which are for exploration only at this stage.

“The option for children to start primary school at age six has been widely discussed by education professionals across the UK for several years now and is already in operation in many other European countries. The option to deliver the statutory 25 hours of education per week over four rather than five days is also being explored by other local authorities in Scotland.

“One of North Ayrshire Council’s key priorities is to raise educational attainment in local schools and any proposals to alter the current education service would require to be fully investigated and discussed by elected members before any decision would be reached.”

The suggestion has met with hostility however from public sector unions, who have called on elected members of the council to dismiss any suggestions made by council officers to convert to a four-day school week. Stephanie Herd, the North Ayrshire branch secretary of Unison, said:

“The four-day week is a daft idea. I hope elected members realise how ridiculous it is for pupils and for working parents.”

Teaching unions were also sceptical, though they sounded supportive of the idea of deferring the starting age for schooling in North Ayrshire to six. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association explained:

“There is huge merit in formal education being deferred until the age of six, but this year would have to be replaced by high-quality nursery education, rather than being a cost-cutting exercise.”

The Scottish National Party, however, voiced outrage at the move, with one of the party’s councillors in North Ayrshire Kenny Gibson declaring he was “astonished” at the suggestion – but his words overlooked the ballot of teachers at SNP/Lib Dem controlled Renfrewshire where the council is considering a greater use of non-qualified teachers to provide lessons to save £1.1 million a year.

While in Edinburgh – a local authority also run by an SNP/Lib Dem coalition – proposals to save £3.3 million in secondary schools include:

• Increasing class sizes for S1 and S2 English and Maths classes;

• Charging pupils for music tuition;

• Increasing the time spent by teachers in classrooms; and

• Reducing the number of bursaries in the city’s schools as well as the number of deputy head teachers.

For all the the rhetoric of the SNP, the reality, as proved in Renfrewshire and Edinburgh, is that all local authorities in Scotland of all political persuasions are being forced to make tough decisions on how best to use the dwindling funds provided to Scotland by Westminster.

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