I have today said that the City Council and its Education Convener should be prepared to sit down with Dundee pupils who are protesting about the council’s education cuts to listen to their concerns and see what can be done to address them.
This follows the protest outside Tayside House on Friday when the pupils were told that they should make an appointment with the Director of Education after the Easter holidays.
The pupils should have the opportunity to put their case earlier than that to show the council is listening – with the Education Convener and opposition spokespersons as well as senior council officials being prepared to take part. It makes sense that this happens during the school holidays whilst pupils are available off school.
It was disappointing that when around 100 pupils came down to Tayside House on Friday, no-one from the Education Department was available to meet them. I am aware that the Director was about to go on leave on Friday, but in a large department it is surprising that no-one would come down to speak with them.
It is important that pupils’ concerns are listened to and I have therefore written to the department suggesting that during the school holidays representatives of the pupils are invited to discuss their concerns with the Head of Secondary Education in the Director’s absence, the Education Convener and opposition representatives. The council should be seen to listen.
I have found the Head of Secondary Education to be very approachable in discussing the various issues I have received from constituents about education – particularly the City Campus proposal. I have therefore suggested to him that arranging a meeting very soon with pupils would be good practice.
The Head of Secondary Education has responded to me saying that he will meet with the Education Convener today to discuss the matter but, in principle, he sees no problem with meeting pupil representatives. This is to be welcomed.
This morning, I had the pleasure of meeting parents of children at Law Nursery; they are very concerned at SNP plans to close the nursery on its long standing and highly successful site and relocate it within Rosebank Primary School.
I accepted a petition with 1161 signatures on it – an indication of real concern about SNP plans. I delivered this to the Director of Education later today.
Tonight, we unfortunately saw the high handed arrogance of the Dundee City Council SNP administration at its worst. Bowing to public pressure, they withdrew their paper to close Law Nursery from the Education Committee but refused to give parents and the Education Committee any reassurance that the report will not come back and that the proposal is permanently dropped.
I have called on the Education Convener Liz Fordyce to stop this unfortunate approach and give parents a categoric assurance that she has dropped the closure proposal permanently. I spoke tonight to a parent leading the campaign to save the nursery on its present site and although she had been advised that the item was dropped from tonight’s committee, no assurance was given that the proposal has been permanently abandoned, as parents demand.Tonight saw the SNP administration rather lose the plot. Some members of the public were denied access to the meeting and the Education Convener failed to give any reassurance to members of the Education Committee over Law Nursery.
I ask Mrs Fordyce to give a clear and categorical assurance that the SNP has permanently dropped its plans to close the Law Nursery facility and move provision to Rosebank Primary School.
It is not what parents want and its about time Mrs Fordyce started listening to them.
After a visit to Ancrum Drive to discuss impending works that the City Council will undertake to ensure the flooding problem from Lochee Park into residents’ gardens is tackled, I attended a very interesting briefing on the private sector house condition survey in Dundee, undertaken by David Adamson and Partners.
This contained very interesting information about the city’s private sector housing stock – owner occupied, former local authority sold housing and private rented housing. Of concern is the extent of investment needed to bring those houses requiring repair up to an acceptable standard (£24.82 million to achieve tolerable standard/visible repairs up to £76.02 million for comprehensive repairs) and environmental concerns – graffiti/vandalism/parking issues/rubbish etc – a concern for some residents in the West End and in other wards, according to the survey.
Later today, I had a very useful meeting with the Head of Secondary Education about the City Campus proposal and progress with Curriculum for Excellence. Thereafter, I held my weekly surgery at Blackness Primary School.
Today’s Scottish Budget is a major boost for students and colleges.
It has delighted the National Union of Students who have said: “The Scottish Liberal Democrats have worked very hard for students on this issue” and “This is great news”.
It will help tackle a crisis faced in Scotland’s colleges from 1st April this year. They can’t afford to wait for a new government. They need action now. As news reports in the last few days have highlighted, there are potential course closures at Elmwood, James Watt, North Highland, Dumfries & Galloway and Carnegie College and many more.The changes we have negotiated from the Scottish Government will give thousands of students access to bursary support. That will mean they can take up their studies and find ways into work.
We have also secured funding for more than a thousand new places directly at colleges. This will help colleges who are facing severe financial pressures.
We have also secured funding for additional modern apprentices and training opportunities that rely indirectly on colleges. I raised the issue of apprenticeships in renewable energy at FMQs in the autumn. This is tackled in the Budget changes we have secured.
We are also very pleased that we have secured funding for a second year for our idea of a Post Office Diversification Fund. This benefited fifty post offices in the last year and can now benefit more this year. The fund helps post offices introduce new types of business (such as hot food or drinks). It will help them stay open, serving their communities.
Of course, this Budget and the changes we have secured will not solve all of the problems that Scotland faces. Colleges and communities still face enormous challenges. Much will have to wait until after May. Our plans for government envisage a spending review and budget revisions very quickly after the election. We have already spoken with the Permanent Secretary’s senior officials in order to brief them on our intentions to move rapidly in government.
But the steps we have secured today mean a better Budget for Scotland than would have been the case without the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Tavish Scott MSP
Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats
I would be grateful if you can clarify the following questions for me as soon as possible and certainly in advance of next Thursday’s Policy & Resources Committee meeting.
a) Primary Promoted Post Structure – I note the revised proposal involves the number of Depute Head Teachers reducing by more than half (50 to 23) and that the estimated saving in 2011-12 from this aspect will be £854 000. This implies a very fast implementation in the new financial year and I would ask if you can share your implementation plan in order that I can be reassured that this matter will be handled sensitively for staff concerned. I note what you write about acting DHTs, but can you clarify exactly what you mean by “the phased redeployment of DHTs where practical”? I am sure I am not the only elected member who needs reassurance as to how the Education Department envisages implementing these proposals.
b) In 4.2.7 of that report you also indicate that the level of savings achieved by DHT removal falls short of required savings by £77 300. You therefore propose the removal of 3.2 FTE “excess teachers” in the primary sector. Can you please clarify where these posts are, how this will affect teaching and class structure at the affected schools, and how the £77 300 is calculated? Can you also give me your implementation plan so I am assured that the full £77 300 can be achieved during the 2011/12 financial year?
c) In 3.1 of this report you indicate that the savings are required “to contribute to the funding of the ‘new build’ properties at the West End, Whitfield and Balgarthno Road.” I am confused by this statement as these projects have been included in the City Council’s Capital Plan for some time and are therefore already funded. Can you please clarify?
d) Dundee Campus Proposal – I am pleased to see that the travel costs for pupils I had requested is now included in the finalised report. However, the report does not indicate how the costs of this have been calculated. Can you please advise me how the £10 000 cost in 2011/12 and £11 000 in the full year are calculated?
e) Devolved School Management. I paste below my earlier question raised via the Chief Executive and your response in red :
Devolved School Management. One of the savings assumed here is in respect of a cut in the provision for short term absences. Fraser wishes an assurance that when money runs out for an individual school, because of say an outbreak of influenza, will there be continuing support from the Education Department. How will this particular saving be achieved?
The intention is to give Head Teachers complete responsibility for the management of their staff absence budget and I shall expect them to do that to the best of their ability. The intention is that this will be part of an extended DSM scheme (to be brought in due course to Committee for approval) giving schools much more responsibility and autonomy than they have at present. However, it would be irresponsible of me as Director not to be able to respond to an emergency situation that might arise in a school, and I shall continue to do that.
As to how the saving might be achieved, we are already seeing absence cover requests decreasing, partly owing to the adoption of more robust absence management procedures, which in turn has led to a significant reduction in teacher absence levels.
I am pleased that you will respond to an emergency situation where a school’s DSM budget for short term absences is exhausted. However, can you advise me from what budget this will be met?
Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Councillor for the West End
Liberal Democrat Group Leader – Dundee City Council
I was on Wave 102 (click ‘play’ above to listen) and Radio Tay news today about the council budget, again making the point that there was merit in all-party discussions with our Head Teachers to reach the best possible solution for management arrangements in our schools.
Having discussed proposals from the Labour Group with Cllr Kevin Keenan, the Labour Group Leader, it is clear these have the potential to release up to £350 000 additional funding for education to help devolved school management – something my LibDem colleague Cllr Helen Dick and I will support.
Today, I had a very productive meeting with Chief Superintendent Gavin Robertson, Detective Chief Inspector Shaun McKillop and Inspector Dave Scott from Tayside Police, following concerns about break-ins in parts of the West End.
The police representatives emphasised that the police are giving high priority to the break-ins situation across the Dundee Division of Tayside Police. Specifically, in terms of Beat 26 in the West End Ward, which covers the east part of the ward (excluding the Perth Road corridor) from the river up to Pentland, there has been significant targeted police resource being put in and in terms of detection and prevention this is showing signs of improvement with a detection rate above the city average (covering both theft and reset). Use of proactive patrols and intelligence-led stop and search is proving helpful.
The police are keen to ensure that residents are given good security advice and we had a very useful discussion about promoting and extending controlled entry systems for tenement/flatted properties. They are also keen to meet with local residents’ groups to update them on what action is being taken both to prevent and detect thefts from houses, garages and sheds in the area.
A new crime prevention advice book is also being published and I have asked for copies for constituents.
I am pleased that the police are taking very proactive and positive steps to tackle this serious issue.
Given the concerns we all have about thesuicides of young people in the city over the summer, this was an important event to discuss suicide prevention measures being taken locally, multi-agency working, and support for people and their families.
I asked questions about support and about awareness training. A full report on the outcomes from today’s meeting will go to the council’s Social Work and Health Commitee. Full details of the Scottish Government’s Choose Life campaign is available athttp://www.chooselife.net/.
* I had a positive meeting with the Chair, Chief Executive and Head of Pharmacy at NHS Tayside about thetransportation of drugs issue I have highlighted recently. The NHS representatives agreed to put the policy before the Board’s Improvement & Quality Committee for discussion and have also agreed to my request to retain records for longer.
The Head of Secondary Education at the City Council has advised me as follows :
“The new examination framework will not begin until May 2014. Pupils in the present S2, S3 and S4 stages will continue to sit Standard grade exams until May 2013. The SQA is currently developing the new examination framework and is working with teachers from subject departments across the country, including a number from Dundee, to develop the new exams.
These will be tried and trialled in schools and refined to ensure that they are fit for purpose. The Scottish Government has made it clear that the new assessment framework will build on the learning experiences and outcomes actoss the subjects being studied in S1-3.”
It would, of course, be a bit bizarre if a pupil undertook the new curriculum but sat the examinations that were a product of the old curriculum. I have therefore asked for, and received, an assurance that no pupil on the new curriculum for excellence will sit the old Standard Grade examinations.
The accommodation schedule for the new school is being prepared currently in conjunction with the school. Meetings between now and 11th February are planned with school staff to establish a baseline of necessary accommodation. A meeting, chaired by Michael Wood*, will take place week commencing 15th February to finalise the accommodation schedule. This will contribute to the development of the new feasibility study which is likely to be presented to committee in May/June 2010. Our planning still assumes a ‘new build’ cost of £28m.”
Parking : The long-awaited report on residents’ parking, looking at five areas of the city including the area approximately east of Sinderins from Roseangle/Magdalen Yard Road in the south to Blackness Road in the north (termed ‘West End’ in the report) and the Invergowrie Drive area finally appeared on the agenda of the City Development Committee.
The report (see http://tinyurl.com/parkingreport) gave the outcomes of the surveying work and informal consultation on the difficulties residents in the affected areas face trying to get their cars parked in these areas of high parking demand. The surveying and consultation took place during my period as Planning & Transport Convener and it had been the intention of the previous administration to maintain the momentum in the process of finding parking solutions for residents, by bringing a report to committee in spring 2009. The SNP administration that took control of the council at that time has since taken an age to move this process forward (I have lost count of the number of e-mail exchanges and converstations I have had with council officers including the Chief Executive in lobbying to get the report to committee for discussion and progression) – but at least the matter has now finally been debated.
The report envisages the drawing up of residents’ parking scheme proposals in 4 of the 5 areas (not the Invergowrie Drive area) with priority in terms of timing of this work being given to two areas, including the area I refer to above as ‘West End’.
I sought assurances from the Director of City Development over timescales and he indicated that (subject to public consultation) should a parking scheme find favour with residents, it would be in place in approximately 18 months.
Whilst welcoming the fact that consultation with the community is to take place, I stressed that this must be proactive and inclusive – to ensure that any scheme finally agreed is fit for purpose and actually has the support of residents. I pointed out that the response rate to the questionnaires issued in the area during the informal consultation period was only 16%, so public engagement is vital. I have concerns about the so-called “cost neutrality” of the proposed scheme and a charge of around £77 per annum may well make any scheme unattractive.
Given the large number of residents who regularly contact me about their problems with parking, I will be following progress on this issue closely and would welcome feedback from residents at any time – firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 459378.
Parking again! : At Education Committee last night, another aspect of parking was discussed – that being the drop-off of pupils and parking around schools. The report (see http://tinyurl.com/schoolsparking) outlined the successes of the parking pilots at Park Place Primary in the West End and Eastern Primary in Broughty Ferry and proposed a roll-out across the city.
I welcomed this, particularly given the number of concerns raised by parents and other residents about the parking problem outside West End schools – in addition to the long-standing concerns at Park Place that resulted in it being a pilot site, I get many complaints about the parking situation at both Blackness Primary School and St. Joseph’s Primary School in particular.
In answer to my question to the Director of Education last night about the speed of roll-out of the project to particular schools, he gave a commitment that this would be shared with local councillors and I have now written to him seeking detail about the West End schools.
Policy and Resources Committee : At Policy and Resources Committee, I asked the Chief Executive for assurances about how the City Council’s 2009/10 overspend was being tackled – at £220 000 in the red, net of underspends, as of 30th November 2009, there is concern at this, particularly given the continuing areas of expenditure pressure such as demand-led social work services and winter maintenance.
The committee also discussed cuts to Fairer Scotland Funded projects to the tune of nearly £1m. As these projects provide much-needed services to many of our most vulnerable citizens, this is an issue of considerable concern.
I have specifically raised with the Chief Executive my concern about the proposal to remove funding from six projects, particularly given that most projects have met or indeed exceeded their targets/outcomes. At committee last night, I particularly highlighted my concern at the proposed removal of funding for the Sheltered Shopping Scheme – its loss would be met with great disappointed by the many elderly folk across Dundee who use this useful bus service to take them shopping. I am in correspondence with council officers seeking clarification as to how this service could continue to be funded.
At both Education Committee and Policy and Resources Committee, a report of free school meals and P1-3 class sizes reductions was tabled. Whilst welcoming the approach taken on school meals (expansion of breakfast clubs including Blackness and Park Place Primaries, with the Park Place facility being a joint one with St Joseph’s), the approach the SNP administration is taking with class sizes benefits only some schools and shows just how hollow SNP promises to reduce all Primary One to Three classes to 18 or less, made at the last election, really were.
I want to emphasise that no major take over of any of the park space is envisaged. Primary schools in Dundee who do not have dedicated playing fields occasionally make use of park space for events such as sports days and football matches, but their use tends to be rare. I do not envisage the new West End campus requiring anything more frequent in Victoria Park. Because of that, there are no proposals to erect fences, and the statement I have read in the press about a possible all-weather facility is quite simply wrong – no such facility is proposed.
I am intending that the outcome of my discussions with Stewart Murdoch (Director of Leisure and Communities) should be taken to the West End Project Board, which as you know will contain representatives from a number of stakeholders. You will also remember that Chris Ward (Assistant Chief Executive) is chairing that group and intends calling the first meeting in late January.
With regard to consultation, parents are represented on the Project Board and will have an opportunity to express their views. I would also have no objection to an organisation such as Friends of Balgay Park being represented on the Local Implementation Group, the first meeting of which will take place after the initial meeting of the Project Board.”
It is very important indeed to consult with all stakeholders – particularly parents and carers and the wider local community – throughout the building process and I see the establishment of the Board and the promised project implementation groups as vital to the process of ensuring good quality consultation and making sure that all views, concerns and issues that may arise during the construction of the new schools are adequately addressed.
As reported in today’s “Courier” I have made the point that the Scottish Government decision has taken some time to be made.
Some time ago the Director of Education gave me an assurance that he would call an initial meeting of the west end schools project board as soon as the decision was known
I hope this can now happen without delay as it is important to consult with all -and particularly parents – as the project progresses. I have written to the Director asking for assurances in that regard.
The First Minister has now bowed to pressure and sacked the Education Secretary.
Commenting, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott MSP, said, “Since the weekend we have been in discussions with all the other parties.
“There is a growing crisis in Scottish education that can only be addressed with a fresh Education Secretary.
“There are 54,000 children in P7 who face a new Curriculum For Excellence next August. Yet teachers say that they still have not had the details of the assessments and the exams that they need. Without a fresh approach, the new curriculum will be under-planned and under-resourced.
“There is a crisis in teacher numbers. The latest figures show there are 1,300 fewer teachers than this time last year. Class sizes are rising. We need a fresh approach to restore teacher numbers and give new teachers the career opportunities they deserve.
“Over the weekend, Fiona Hyslop fundamentally broke the relationship between central and local government. She threatened to nationalise every school in Scotland. Nobody believes that the Minister in Edinburgh can possibly run every single school.
“We need a fresh Education Secretary to rebuild that bond of trust and create a working relationship with councils and schools that will help children and teachers.”
Part of the process for determining whether deregulation should be approved or not is the consideration by the Government to a report by HMIe on the proposal. For some reason, the HMIe report has taken more time than I envisaged or hoped. I have now had an assurance from HMIe that that report has now been forwarded to the Scottish Government. With somewhat bated breath I look forwarded to a decision being made soon. It will also be my intention to contact the School Estates directorate to confirm that the matter will now be dealt with speedily.
“Good Afternoon Cllr Macpherson,
I am pleased to inform you that we have now been able to arrange for the above SCP to be manned with effect from lunch time on Tue 27 Oct. The individual concerned will be issued with his equipment/clothing on Tuesday morning and will receive the relevant training before taking up his post. I should point out that the new SCP has had previous experience as an SCP, which explains how we can have him in place within such a short space of time.”
Update 2 : As I indicated earlier today, I had raised residents’ concerns about slippy leaves on pavements at Abbotsford Place and Blackness Avenue. By lunchtime, I had received the following feedback from the Waste Management Department :
The supervisor reports the job is now completed.”
I bumped into one of the Abbotsford Place residents who had complained about the issue in Tesco Metro in the City Centre this afternoon as she was well impressed with the quality of clean-up and the speed of response. The Waste Management Department is extremely responsive, so very many thanks!
Parents had expressed concern to me that, with the schools coming back after the autumn holiday this week, there is still no replacement crossing patroller at this extremely busy road and I am pleased that the department has recruited a temporary patroller from the start of next week. I have also been given assurances that a permanent replacement is being sought, which is vital, as it is totally unacceptable that there was no patroller being in place at such a busy crossing.
I have also received assurances that the City Council will be taking a proactive approach in its efforts to recruit new school crossing patrollers.
Parents have expressed concern to me that, with the schools coming back after the autumn holiday earlier this week, there is still no replacement crossing patroller at this extremely busy road. Hawkhill is a main route into the City Centre, is a busy bus route and many heavy goods vehicles use the road. Furthermore the crossing is adjacent to the corner with Peddie Street, a very busy road junction.
“ … the individual who had been manning this crossing moved out of the Dundee area just after the school returned from the Summer holidays. A replacement was found from our temporary supply pool. However again this individual was able to secure full-time employment and withdrew their availability to man the crossing.”
I responded to the Council in the following terms :“I must say I am most concerned about the situation at Hawkhill. There is heavy footfall of children here and the younger ones in particular cannot be expected to negotiate the pelican crossing without a patroller. Hawkhill is extremely busy and a bus route; the crossing is adjacent to the very busy junction with Peddie Street.
I view this as a priority for a patroller facility given the high volume of vehicles and use of the road by many buses and HGVs, given that Hawkhill is a main thoroughfare into the City Centre.
I’d be grateful if every effort can be made to get a replacement as soon as possible.”
I have taken the matter to the Director of Education and have also asked questions about the efforts to recruit new school crossing patrollers. It is totally unacceptable that the school returned without a patroller being in place at such a busy crossing. Late today, my office at the City Council received assurances from the Education Department that the Director would be further briefed on my concerns first thing tomorrow.
I have discussed your e-mail with David, and am pleased to give you our collective response.
The short answer is that there can be no clarity to the questions of cost or timescale until the meeting has been held with Scottish Futures Trust which I referred to at Committee on Monday night. As I indicated, Scottish Futures Trust wrote to all relevant authorities, on the back of the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement, seeking an early meeting to discuss all the issues pertaining to the forthcoming project. Scottish Futures Trust would want that meeting to be held no later than the beginning of November.
There will clearly need to be discussions among relevant officers in preparation for the meeting, and then afterwards it would be my intention to bring a report to the Education Committee as soon as possible seeking approval for the project. That Committee report could be in November, but you will understand that I would want an opportunity to confirm that at a later date once all meetings have been held.
I understand fully the desire for as much information as possible and I shall undertake to share that as soon as it is available. You are correct that everyone welcomes this project and we would all wish to see it progress swiftly.
I’d be most grateful if you can advise me when officers of the council are meeting with the Scottish Futures Trust, once this has been arranged. Many thanks.
· Ellon Academy in Aberdeenshire
· Mearns Academy in Aberdeenshire
· Brechin High in Angus
· Dalbeattie High in Dumfries and Galloway
· Harris Academy in Dundee
· Eastwood High in East Renfrewshire
· James Gillespie’s in Edinburgh
· Auchmuty High in Fife
· Wick High in Highland
· Lasswade High in Midlothian
· Garnock Academy in North Ayrshire
· Clyde Valley High in North Lanarkshire
· Ayr Academy in South Ayrshire
· Dumbarton Academy in West Dunbartonshire
· The distribution of needs, nationally
· Best available information about schools’ condition (core facts, School Estate Management Plans, and other intelligency)
· Best availability on schools’ “unsuitability” to deliver modern education
· Additionality – schools which are not part of a funded programme already
· Authorities’ own priorities
· Aspects of readiness to proceed (bearing in mind there will be a second phase).