Funding an issue when it comes to reopening schools, say councillors
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Highland Council will need more cash to get children back in education by the Scottish Government’s deadline in August, according to leading councillors.
The chairman of the education committee, Councillor John Finlayson, said the bottom line is that to do what the government is asking "costs money".
He warned there is a lot of "stress and difficulty" around planning because the situation is unstable, with particular fears centred on late changes.
But the Scottish Government’s failure to announce more funding for local authorities to deliver face-to-face teaching at least 50 per cent of the time is said to be hampering the planning for reopening of schools.
The depute leader of the local authority, Councillor Alasdair Christie, hit out at a lack of clarity on whether funding was going to come or not.
He argued that if no extra cash were to emerge then it would be damaging to parents, teachers and pupils.
Criticism of the government’s stance has been vociferous from opposition parties, with both Conservatives and Labour accusing the SNP of being in disarray over education.
Councillor Finlayson said: “For me there is a crucial need to get additional resources from the Scottish Government to support the plans that authorities and schools draw up.
“We are now expected to aim for at least a 50 per cent face-to-face education diet, and this costs money – in terms of possibly needing to acquire additional building space and also employing more staff.
“I know from personal experience that the barrier to offering more school time is not always space. It can be additional staff and we need resource and finance to support schools to offer more time.”
The range of issues to be considered is huge, according to the recently appointed interim executive chief officer for education, Paul Senior.
Among them are transport, communications, early learning and childcare, catering, facilities management, IT and staff as well as rural issues as he described the government’s calls as a “stretch”.
“Some of the key considerations are 203 schools, 50,000 young children aged 0-19, 2400 full-time-equivalent teaching staff and 950 full-time-equivalent support staff," he said.
“That kind of gives you a feel for the scale of the ask here in terms of mobilising all of those schools and settings and getting them up and running in a safe and secure way in a planned way.
“That involves catering solutions, making sure that our children and young people are getting access to meals and nutrition; transport, making sure our children are getting to school; facilities, making the environment ready and secure; and resource implication – that is a big stretch for us.”
Councillor Christie, who leads the recovery board, has called for a common-sense approach, saying urgent clarity about the funding position is needed.
“If the Scottish Government doesn’t provide additional funding then we would probably have to have an emergency budget to discuss education. We’d probably need to have an emergency council meeting," he said.
“It would be damaging for teachers, damaging for parents, damaging for pupils and damaging for the economy. So we have to hope that common sense prevails and the correct and necessary resources are given to education.”