Plans to impose cuts to Fife’s education service have been branded as ‘truly Dickensian’ by teaching union EIS.
The proposals to axe school uniform grants and reduce funding for breakfast cafes, holiday clubs, early years teachers and music tuition have been slammed by the union which claims the move is a ‘direct attack’ on the poorest and most vulnerable.
David Farmer, Fife EIS publicity officer, believes the cuts will hurt the Kingdom’s neediest families and said the plans show a ‘callous disregard for the futures of our young people’.
His comments follow the circulation of a internal working document, drawn up by Fife Council officers, ahead of the 2018-19 budget with suggestions for cuts in parts of the education service.
However, Carrie Lindsay, Fife Council’s education and children’s services director, said the document was a ‘first draft of what will become a longer-term plan for service redesign’ and emphasised that no decisions had yet been made.
She said that some of the suggestions may not even go to committee for a decision.
The cuts include yet another controversial proposal to reduce music tuition. This isn’t the first time Fife Council has attempted to axe funding for instrumental music tuition in the region’s schools.
In a previous move by the local authority in April 2010, plans to cut instrumental music lessons fell out of tune with young musicians who held a protest outside Fife Council headquarters in Glenrothes.
Around 200 young people, instrumentalists and instructors, turned up to voice their anger at proposals by the local authority to reduce the music tuition budget by a quarter, with the savings coming into effect in August of that year.
Tutors and pupils, many of whom went on to develop musical careers, attended the musical demonstration, which was held just before Fife’s education and children services committee was due to meet in Fife House.
However, the plans were shelved and the council was forced to back down over the proposals after a furious reaction from teachers and musicians.
David Farmer said: “Fife EIS would describe the now published budget proposals from Education and Children’s Services as truly Dickensian.
“There seems to be, at a time when much is made of supporting the poorest and most vulnerable, some direct attacks on those we should actually be protecting.
“We wonder how the proposal to remove the school clothing grant accords with Section 23 of the Education Act (Scotland) 2016?
“We wonder just how the proposal to cut the Instrumental Music Services recognises the great work done by that service over many years. What about those children whose lives have been positively changed by music instruction?
“We wonder just how the national innovations in early years can be effectively served by further reducing the number of early years teachers?
“We also wonder how the proposals to make major changes to pupil support services can continue to support those young people effectively when the cumulative savings run into millions?
“There are details of many of the proposals which we are just not clear about at this moment in time.”
He added: “For the poor, for the most vulnerable the potential for even harder times are writ large.”
But Carrie Lindsay said: “The information which the EIS is referring to is an internal working document which is being used to open up discussions with services, staff and unions at this stage. There will be ongoing discussion as these plans develop over the next year.
“We have been using these draft plans for months now in our conversations with all the trade unions and will continue to do so.
“The document referred to is a first draft of what will become a longer-term plan for service redesign. It is a working document that will be significantly developed over the coming months to reflect the ambitions of the new partnership Plan for Fife, and the case for a programme of change that is being set out in the Changing to Deliver report going to committee in November 2017.”
She continued: “This version of the plan has been prepared early to help inform the budget process for 2018-19 following many years of difficult and challenging decisions. The ideas contained within it have been prepared by officers and no decisions have been taken by members. Some ideas will not go forward at all.”
She added: “Any decisions on specific changes that will be made in the next year will be made during the budget setting process which concludes in February 2018. We’re confident our staff will work with us for the best outcomes possible.”