The Parent Council of Port Charlotte Primary School has gone into action to try to defend the viability of the school their children love – and it’s not hard to see why.
The have issued a detailed and informative public statement which, amongst much else, describes some pretty chaotic circumstances brought about by Argyll and Bute Council’s progressive cutting of resources from the school, as, to be fair, their own budgets have progressively been cut by the Scottish Government – and are now affecting the vital organs of their corporate responsibility – public services.
Reading of some of the circumstances they describe, it is hard to see how on earth ‘education ‘ – as opposed to rudimentary child minding – can be reliably delivered.
These are parents who understand well and appreciate the value of the contributions of the vsrious types of staff to the organic working of the school – and of what that integrated team make possible for their children.
Parents know only the council that resources their children’s education adequately – or does not.
They have no access to nor any real knowledge of the stresses to the council’s service provision from cuts imposed from above on its annual budget.
This is not a council averse to using the most vulnerable of those affected by he current situation – the children and their anxious parents – as pawns in a stand off with government.
This is also a council which, like its peers, may by now have been squeezed too far in nine successive years of budget cuts from centrsl government.
In reality, the current situation – in the interests of public good – requires councils and the Scottish Government to agree a sensible compromise on funding, with Scotland’s primary and secondary education service proven already to be failing its children in the most basic skills of literacy and numeracy; and failing to close the attainment gap between pupils from well off and poorer backgrounds.
Parent Council’s statement
‘Our Children’s Education in Argyll & Bute Council hands?
‘As it seems with many schools within Argyll and Bute, it is only just coming to our attention as parents that our children’s education is at risk. Our first wake up call is staff in the school receiving notification of proposed cuts to their hours. The support staff who provide key roles within the school team are the affected element, a source of budget cuts for the Council, amongst a list of 150 possible areas/jobs within the council deemed open for reduction [none in the mix being above a head teacher pay grade].
‘It turns out that this notification comes after the ‘closing date’ for responses to the consultation Argyll and Bute have been having re. their cuts to the budget. I am a busy person, obviously with my head in the sand, it’s the first I, many, are aware of the impact to them.
‘Port Charlotte Primary School is a small village school with a big sense of community. Over the years we have struggled to have long term leadership [14 head teachers in 17 years] and a stable teaching structure. Finally in the winter of 2014/15, a new, fully contracted, head teacher, 3 experienced teachers in three classes, pupils and parents happy.
‘Come the following school year, all change, legally allowable composite class sizes [25 children per teacher] and a school role of 44 children, the council see fit to make one teacher surplus and amalgamate primary years and learning stages into two large classes. Of course objections were made but with no legal argument we have had to lump it. So our teachers have had to adapt to mixed classes of varied abilities, 22 children in a composite class P1-P4 all squeezed into a small class, fitting in play areas and teaching across a vast range of abilities (children of 4½ to ages 8). This class has two teachers one part time and the head teacher now having to teach in class 2½ days of the week taking her away from the role of managing the school. We have 22 children in a composite class of P5-P7, with the younger ones needing help to bring up their learning standard aside from the older pupils in order for them to learn alongside each other.
‘This is our reality now, a struggle but dedicated staff trying to make it work for the benefit of the children under challenging conditions. Now the new staff cuts want to make this burden even greater, a 37% cut [not even the blanket 20% across the board cut] to our classroom assistant, only contracted for 14.25 hours a week at present down to 9 hours [less that 2 hours support for the children a day]. This role implements many of Argyll & Bute’s learning initiatives, helping children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, extra help on maths, spelling and reading. Well trained through many council courses this person is available to help at break times, support on trips and many other elements within the school to help relieve the pressure on teaching staff and help advance our children to attain their full potential
‘Our Janitor provides a key role in maintaining cleanliness, health and safety, practical maintenance, bus driver, playground duty, paid only during term time, proposed to cut hours from 35 to 30.
‘The clerical support is to be cut too (24 hours down to 20), with a head teacher teaching for half the week and no support in the office at times already, the added burden on the teachers which remain, particularly in the afternoons is and will be even more unsustainable. These cuts will at times mean only two members of staff in school at certain times in the day, phones and the main door only answered if a teacher comes out of class. Most concerning is if an emergency occurs the risk of 22 children left alone in a class on their own, outside in the playground, or worse 44 children unsupervised whilst 2 staff deal with an issue. The health and safety implications are immense and the wellbeing and education of our children under real threat.
‘These proposed cuts are not yet set in stone, they will only happen if our councillors vote for them. We may have missed the official deadline for consultation responses, did you respond? I didn’t and if only 2000 responses were received, does that mean we didn’t care or that the Council did not try very hard to make us aware? These cuts have not taken into account the needs of our children or assessed that they will not suffer as a result, we plan to tell those that represent us that our children’s future is not open for cuts, re-structuring within senior management will achieve more per head than the minions on the lowest pay having the greatest impact within our communities.
‘The council are due to meet on 11th February to decide the cuts, let them know before then that cuts within our children’s education provision will save them nothing in the long run, it will just mean they will shunt the burden of support into the high schools, or into adult support when they don’t achieve their full potential now.
Fiona MacGillivray, Port Charlotte Parent Council
Parent Council’s letter to Argyll & Bute Council
‘We as parents of the pupils in Port Charlotte Primary School are greatly concerned and disturbed by the intention of Argyll and Bute council to cut staffing levels even further within our school in the form of our very necessary support staff, Clerical, Janitorial and Classroom Assistant.
‘We have serious concerns that further reductions in the hours of support staff at Port Charlotte Primary will put the health and safety of pupils at risk and affect the schools ability to sustain Argyll and Bute Council and HMI endorsed education initiatives. The Parent Council is at a loss to understand the reasoning applied when deciding to cut staffing levels therefore we ask that Argyll and Bute Council put in writing the theory, whether that be a formula or a comparable, behind their intentions.
‘We have recently experienced, this academic year, significant upheaval within the class structures with the amalgamation of classes, reducing the school to two classes alongside the Pre-5 unit. One of our very valued teachers now on maternity leave has effectively become obsolete. We would hope that this teacher is retained next academic year and Port Charlotte primary returns to a three class structure.
‘Our teachers have had to deal with increased class sizes, incorporating children of multiple levels of ability and development. We have a P1-4 class (22 pupils) taught by two staff members across the week, one being our head teacher who now has to spend 2.5 days a week within class. This in itself has put added pressure on her time resulting in the same level of management needed to be condensed into less time, or probably more likely, resulting in a level of unpaid overtime in order to achieve the same level of effective management.
‘We understand that clerical support is set to be reduced again, this support is essential to our head teacher and to enable the smooth running of the school. As a parent there are already times in the day when there is no presence in the school office, this is awkward when we are trying to pass on important information for our children’s welfare, this is set to be reduced further. Teaching staff already stretched within class will then also need to answer phones and the school entrance, with the risk of taking them out of the classroom. If an emergency develops, pupils risk not being supervised with only two members of staff within the school as a whole! If one of these needs to deal with a situation, how can one member of staff supervise 44 pupils across the whole school in two class rooms and the safety of our children not be compromised! As parents we feel this will be unacceptable on both the welfare of our children and the added stress and pressure of our valued teachers.
‘Of equal concern is the intention to cut the hours of Port Charlotte’s classroom assistant by 37%! (14.25hr ↓ 9hrs) This will leave the school with only 9 hours of support to be spread between 44 pupils. This staff member currently provides invaluable support particularly within the P5-7 class by taking each of the different years aside helping them to attain and achieve a level which enables them to learn alongside their other classmates allowing the teacher to teach effectively across all levels. It also begs the question – with no spare staff time, how will the Councils education initiatives and child support plans be implemented?
‘We recognise that ASN support is not highlighted in the cuts and we trust that the staff member currently on a contract due to end in March will be retained. We do not understand how Argyll and Bute can justify the level of cut in the classroom assistant role, how is it ok for one school to have 9 hours for 44 pupils and another school 9 hours for 20 pupils (namely at Keills Primary). The council has invested in training and development which has enabled increased effectiveness of our classroom assistant, reducing the hours so dramatically, risks making the roll ineffective and at worst losing a very valuable member of the support team as it is not cost effective for a person to continue in a job situation on so few hours.
‘The current level of support provides enough staffing to enable the pupils to be effectively supervised during break-times and enabling teaching staff to have much needed breaks at lunchtime for example. The cuts will not allow for this.
‘The proposal to cut Janitor hours to only 6 hours a day (35hrs ↓ 30 hrs) means cleanliness, maintenance and health and safety monitoring will be drastically affected which will effect all aspects of the school.
‘How do you expect our valuable young people to achieve their potential under such blatant cuts and disregard to their welfare and education? Our children have great potential to achieve, most are of average ability, the extra support provided by the classroom assistant helps these pupils along the path to more effective learning. Support staff reduce pressure on teaching staff at great financial value to the council, reducing the potential for sickness and stress amongst the staff. These proposed cuts increases the risk on the council budget of having to use supply teachers at extra cost, cutting hours shows a complete lack of forward thinking on the councils budget.
‘The Parents of pupils at Port Charlotte Primary School would like to meet with Ann Marie Knowles to discuss these proposals and how they have assessed that these cuts will not impact negatively on the pupils here at Port Charlotte.
‘As parents at Port Charlotte we will not stand quietly by and allow our school, the health and safety of the children and our children’s education to be compromised any further! The Council will need to find other ways to cut its budget that does not affect the welfare and learning ability of our most valued members of society.’
Port Charlotte Primary School Parents
Note: The Parent Council is also running a local petition to show public support for its stance in refusing to let the primary school serving one of the most remote communities in Islay suffer avoidable decline.