Pupil safety outside Dundee schools

Yesterday, I took part in the latest meeting of the City Council’s working group tackling school parking and pupil safety outside schools across the city.
At my request, an item on the agenda was about ensuring good practice regarding parking near schools and we had a lengthy discussion about this, including ways of promoting good practice.   Included in the discussion was proposed arrangements at Harris Academy once the whole school moves to back to Perth Road in August (senior pupils only are now starting at the new building in advance of the end of the current term)
We also had a discussion about School Crossing Patrollers across the city.   The recent attempts to recruit more SCPs has been really successful with all but 2 of the 85 posts now permanently filled – the best position the city has been in in terms of SCP provision in a very long time.   

Dundee examination appeals drop a real cause for concern

I have today highlighted the huge drop in the number of SQA examination appeals or re-marking of papers and a resultant sharp decline in Dundee pupils being successful in having a disappointing SQA exam result being successfully re-marked.  The figures – which appear to show a similar pattern Scotland-wide – show a worrying trend.
The City Council’s Education Department has advised me as follows :
The Head of Secondary Education at Dundee City Council has advised me :
“It is worth pointing out SQA have recently changed their system.  In the last two years they no longer have used appeals as we would know them.   They use a re-marking procedure only.   This will mean that data in the last two diets will be entirely different from the pattern before this  SQA consulted widely on this change and the educational consensus was that the new system was fairer and gave greater credibility to the examination system.”
I accept that the new system cannot be directly compared to the old appeals system as it is now a re-marking procedure only.     In the old appeal system, schools sent additional evidence to show how well pupils had previously performed ‎- usually a prelim paper and mark.   However you look at it though, the fact remains that where in some years nearly 900 Dundee pupils’ marks were successfully appealed under the old system and now fewer than 30 pupils’ results were improved under the new system.
It is really concerning that we are seeing such a huge drop in pupils’ examination results being reviewed where the pupil, parent and teacher feels the initial grade may be incorrect and the fact that the old system of using additional documentary evidence is no longer taken into account concerns me too.
Additionally, the SQA now charges schools £29.75 for a marking review and £39.75 for a priority marking review.   I understand some private schools are letting parents pay this if they demand their son or daughter gets their exam script re-marked, but local authority schools’ parents are not permitted to pay.    There are good reasons why Education Departments do not permit parents to pay given that many parents simply cannot afford to meet such a cost, but the fact that it is allowed at all gives an unfair imbalance towards private schools.
However, leaving aside the cost issue, it is a concerning situation where only 28 pupils’ results across Dundee were re-marked upwards last year, where under the old appeals system, hundreds of Dundee pupils successfully appealed.

Schools consultation information

Further to the decision taken at the City Council’s Education Committee on 8th December to consult on a proposal to close Menzieshill High School from the end of the 2015/16 school year and the Harris Academy catchment area be increased to include the Dundee part of the Menzieshill High School catchment area, the Director of Education has written this week to consultees as follows :

On 8 December 2014, the Education Committee gave the Director of Education approval to consult on the following proposal:
The closure of Menzieshill High School and redelineation of the catchment area of Harris Academy to include Menzieshill High School’s existing catchment area within Dundee; and to transfer that part of Harris Academy’s catchment area, which comprises the catchment area of Rosebank Primary School to Morgan Academy’s catchment area and make Morgan Academy the associated secondary school of Rosebank Primary School; and to make Baldragon Academy the associated Dundee secondary school of Longforgan, Inchture, Abernyte, Auchterhouse, Birkhill and Liff Primary Schools from August 2016.
The principal implications of the proposal are that:
 Menzieshill High School be discontinued at the close of the school session 2015/16. It is proposed that the changes in the rezoning also take effect for all applications for school places at Harris Academy, Morgan Academy and Baldragon Academy for the school session 2016/17 onwards. Menzieshill High School’s existing catchment area within Dundee will become part of Harris Academy’s catchment area;
 All enrolled pupils in Menzieshill High School will be entitled to transfer to the new Harris Academy at the commencement of academic session 2016/17. Any pupils who wish to enrol at another school would be entitled to make a placing request for that school;
 Perth and Kinross primary schools (Abernyte, Inchture and Longforgan) and Angus primary schools (Auchterhouse, Birkhill and Liff) which were all formerly associated with Menzieshill High School would become associated primary schools of Baldragon Academy;
 The part of Harris Academy’s catchment area, which comprises the catchment area of Rosebank Primary School, would become part of Morgan Academy’s catchment area; and Rosebank Primary School would become an associated primary school of Morgan Academy;
 the Dundee associated primary schools of Menzieshill High School, (Gowriehill Primary School, Hillside Primary School and Camperdown Primary School) would become associated primary schools of Harris Academy; and
 Invergowrie Primary School will remain an associated primary for Harris Academy.
Consultees should note the following points in relation to the proposal and consultation process:
1 The consultation begins on 12 January 2015.
2 Full details of the proposal and a copy of the proposal paper are available on the Dundee City Council website www.dundeecity.gov.uk from this date
3 A copy of the Proposal Paper may be obtained from your school office or from Customer Services, Ground Floor, Dundee House, 50 North Lindsay Street, Dundee.
4 Electronic representations to the proposal should be e-mailed to education@dundeecity.gov.uk
5 Written representations on the proposals may be submitted to Mr Michael Wood, Director of Education, Floor 2, Dundee House, 50 North Lindsay Street, Dundee, DD1 1NL.
6 Where possible, an acknowledgement will be sent to confirm receipt of all representations whether written or electronic. The representations will be used to inform the consultation.
7 The last day of the consultation period is Friday 27 February 2015. This is the last point by which representations must be received for the Council to take them into account.
8 In addition, the following evening public meetings have been arranged to offer you the opportunity to make your views known.
22 January 2015 – Menzieshill High School – 7pm
27 January 2015 – Harris Academy – 7pm
28 January 2015 – Rosebank Primary School – 7pm
2 February 2015 – Baldragon Academy – 7pm
3 February 2015 – Morgan Academy – 7pm
We look forward to hearing from you or talking to you at the above meetings.
Yours sincerely
Director of Education

Concern over thousands of college applicants being turned away

Dundee College
As reported in today’s Courier, figures obtained by Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Liam McArthur MSP, have revealed that colleges across Scotland are unable to offer places to thousands of applicants.   Full details of the figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats are given below.
In the Courier, I made the point that it is very concerning that Dundee College was unable to offer a place for 3,191 applicants in the 2012/13 academic year.      That is up from 2,957 applicants in 2011/12 and 2,037 applicants in 2010/11 and shows a worrying trend that is letting down Dundonians wishing to take up a college place.    
Dundee College does an excellent job but the Scottish Government has continually cut its funding.  The Education Cabinet Secretary should reconsider his decision to further cut college funding.
Liam McArthur has criticised the SNP government for planning to slash a further £34 million out of the college budget at a time when unemployment remains far too high and demand for college places is outstripping supply.  
Commenting on the figures across Scotland, Liam said:
“The Education Secretary needs to think again on his planned college cuts. These figures show that up and down Scotland, colleges are being forced to turn away applicants due to a lack of places. How can the SNP government seriously expect to tackle unemployment if it is slashing over £30 million out of college budgets when they need it most?
“James Watt College was unable to accommodate 1,261 students in 2012/13. That is 1,261 missed opportunities. It rings alarm bells that many of our colleges are turning applicants away due to a lack of places.
“Those who attend colleges often face different circumstances than university applicants. They tend to look for courses on their doorstep and family commitments may mean they cannot relocate to another city. What happens when there’s no room at their local college? These figures show that the SNP’s decision to cut college budgets could have serious ramifications to the lives of our aspiring learners.  
“Interestingly, our figures also show that applicants may also be languishing on waiting lists. City of Glasgow College had 8,021 applicants on waiting list this year alone. I hope that the college waiting list audit can shed some light on this but it is clear that there are questions to be answered about whether this really is best practice.  
“I remain concerned about the pace and extent of college mergers being demanded by the Education Secretary. These figures demonstrate a need to review access and seek to widen it across both further and higher education sectors. In our universities and our colleges, it is clear that we still have a long way to go to achieve fair access to education.
“Mike Russell will only be stoking the flames of unemployment if he goes ahead with plans to cut £34 million out of the college budget.”
Figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats :    We asked: Can you tell me how many applicants have been turned away due to a lack of places in the last three years? 
How colleges responded:
No Response provided for:
Angus College, Kilmarnock College, Cardonald College, Stevenson College Edinburgh, or Motherwell College
Students NOT turned away at: 
Orkney College, Perth College, North Highland College, Inverness College, or at Coatbridge College.
Students turned away at and the numbers:
Dundee College was unable to offer a place for 3,191 applicants in 2012/13. That is up from 2,957 applicants in 2011/12 and 2,037 applicants in 2010/11.
In 2012/13, 400 applicants were turned away from Carnegie College. This is an increase from 343 in 2011/12.
Banff & Buchan College turned away 180 applicants in 2012/13, which is up from 130 applicants in 2011/12. In 2010/11 the college turned away 131 applicants.
West Lothian College turned away 638 students (excluding January programmes) in 2012/13. In 2011/12, the college turned away 489 applicants, and in 2010/11, the college turned away 461 applicants. 
South Lanarkshire College saw 4,999 applications for 1,800 full-time places in 2012/13. As a result, “569 suitable applicants did not receive a place in 2012/13.” In 2011/12 they had 4,747 applications for 1,800 places and in 2010/11 they had 4,093 applicants for 1,800 places.
Reid Kerr College turned away 1,968 students (excluding January programs) in 2012/13. The College turned away 2,217 students in 2011/12 and 2192 students in 2010/11. In 2009/10, the College turned away 2,121 students.
At Moray College there were 64 rejected applicants in 2012/13 which is up from 52 students in 2011/12 but down from 89 students in 2010/11. 
Langside College turned away 2,781 students in 2010/11, 573 students in 2011/12 and 270 students in 2012/13.
Forth Valley College has 734 applicants on their waiting list for 2012/13. This is up from 579 in 2011/12 and 410 in 2010/11.
Dumfries College and Galloway College turned away 86 applicants in 2012/13. This is up from 60 students in 2011/12 and 23 students in 2010/11.
Anniesland College rejected 883 applicants in 2012, compared with 976 applicants in 2011 and 1587 applicants in 2010, due to a lack of places. 
96 applicants to Borders College for 2012/13 did not get a place due to the oversubscribed courses. This is up from 53 applicants in 2011/12 but down from 114 applicants in 2010/11.
At Ayr College 536 applicants were unable to secure a place in 2011/12 this is up from 247 in 2010/1 and 377 in 2009/10.
Barony College, Dumfries turned away 59 people in 2012/13 which is down from 154 people in 2011/12 and 74 people in 2010/11. On 1 October 2012, Barony, Elmwood, Oatridge and SAC merged to form Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), so I replying on behalf of all four former colleges.
Elmwood College turned away 465 students in 2012/13, 206 students in 2011/12, and 29 students in 2010/11.
Oatridge College turned away 185 students in 2012/13, 138 in 2011/12, and 154 in 2010/11.
Scottish Agricultural College turned away 80 students in 2012/13, 68 students in 2011/12, and 0 students in 2010/11.
City of Glasgow College had 8,021 applicants on a waiting list in 2012/13. In 2011/12, 2,951 applicants were on a waiting list and 2,128 applicants were on a reserve list. In 2010/11, no applicants were on a waiting list.
Glasgow Metropolitan College had 4,908 applicants on its waiting list in 2010/11. For 2011/12 and 2012/13, the college responded saying “Glasgow Metropolitan College kept waiting lists which could be interpreted as the number of applicants failing to get a place.”
North Glasgow College turned away 104 students in 2010/11, 456 students in 2011/12, and in 2012/13, 936 students were turned away due to a lack of places.
Glasgow Central College had 377 applicants on a waiting list in 2010/11. For 2011/12 and 2012/13, “if a course was full applications were not accepted even onto a waiting list.”
John Wheatley College had no place for 424 students in 2012/13, compared with no places for 183 students in 2011/12 and no places for 224 students in 2010/11.
Stow College turned away 4,716 applicants in 2010. In 2011, they turned away 6,914 applicants. In 2012, the College turned away 6,207 applicants.  
James Watt College was unable to accommodate 542 students in 2010/11; 900 students in 2011/12, and 1,261 students in 2012/13. 
Aberdeen College does not hold information about college applicants turned away.

Concern over college funding cuts

On the day the First Minister opened the refurbished Dundee College premises, along with my colleague Cllr David May, Convener of Angus Council’s Infrastructure Committee, I met with Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Alan Mitchell, regarding our joint concerns at huge cuts to the college budgets at Angus College and Dundee College.

The Chamber of Commerce has made clear it will seek clarification from Scottish Government about the level of revenue budget cuts affecting the colleges that, for example, amount to a 13.5% reduction for Dundee College in cash terms during the period 2012/13 and 2014/15.

It is great to see the official opening of the Dundee College improved campus facilities today, but the revenue budget cuts facing the college sector are far greater than those facing much of the rest of the public sector.   The First Minister must rethink his priorities to give more priority to further education, otherwise the government’s promise that all 16-19 year olds should have a place in education or training will not be met and young people and others will be denied choices and chances.    Free prescriptions for millionaires should not be a priority;  further education must be.

After having this year’s (2011/12) funding cut by 10.4% which resulted in Dundee College having to implement £4m of savings, resulting in 120 staff job losses and a number of course cutbacks, it now appears that during the period 2012/13  – 2014/15, Dundee College funding will be cut by a further 13.5% in cash terms.    These cuts are front loaded with a 7% cash cut in 2012/13.    This represents a cash reduction of £1.4m for Dundee College.

At a time when the First Minister says he wants to invest in jobs and growth, this makes no economic sense.

My colleague, Cllr David May, has written to the Arbroath Herald as follows :

“I am appalled at what the SNP is suggesting for our universities in Dundee but the news this weekend for our colleges is devastating, as the SNP government is going to slash the budgets for our colleges in both Angus and Dundee. This will not only lead to job cuts of college staff but is bound to lead to cuts in the courses they can offer. 

Our young people in both Angus and Dundee will suffer as a result and so much for the SNP investing in the future of our young people.   Yet again, just like the proposed mergers of the two Dundee universities and the hike in business rates, I am unable to see this in their election manifesto and so, in my view, they do not have a mandate for slashing college budgets.   Furthermore how does this equate with what the SNP have said about growth in the economy?
Surely our SNP MSPs in Angus will back our young people and publicly condemn this, and vote this down in the parliament.
Cllr David May  (former Dundee secondary HT and now Convener of Infrastructure Services at Angus Council).

Tuesday update

Today, I took part in the Jericho House Support Group latest meeting, at which we discussed and planned events for this very worthwhile project, including a dance during November and also a play Jericho House is planning on the subject of recovery from alcoholism.  It is hoped the play will run during West End Christmas Week.  The recent sponsored walk for Jericho House raised nearly £1000 – an excellent result.

Later on, I attended the West End Schools Project Board – the board set up to oversee the building project on the former Logie Secondary School site on Blackness Road for a new St Joseph’s Primary School and Park Place Nursery and Primary Schools.    I mentioned that the City Council must consider the need for a school crossing patroller on Glenagnes Road when the new schools open in October 2012.

Tonight, I attended a meeting of River Crescent Residents’ Association at which I discussed with residents a number of local matters, including the possibility of a Friends group for Riverside Nature Park and local roads issues.

This morning’s Courier covered my comments about Royal Mail’s decision to close the Crichton Street collection office and tonight’s Evening Telegraph reported on the 4S bus situation to St John’s High School and my concerns at the removal of this school bus.    A meeting of parents about the matter has been arranged for next Wednesday and I have booked Blackness Library for that meeting.