Unauthorised Absences in Dundee Schools 2009/10

Commenting on figures for Unauthorised Absences in Dundee Schools 2009/10 made available as a result of a Freedom of Information Request.

The figures for unauthorised absences in Dundee schools are unacceptably high. Neither politicians in the city, nor schools, nor education directorate can be complacent about this. Every day a child is absent from school is a day of learning lost. Not only that, but when a child returns to school following a period of absence there is inevitably some disruption to teaching and learning in a class.

Parents and carers have prime responsibility to ensure that their child attends school. Schools have a responsibility to make sure education is engaging and relevant for pupils and of course to inform parents if their child has an unauthorised absence from school.

In some city schools the figures suggest that the total number of days lost is uncomfortably and inexplicably high. For example, in St Paul's Academy there were 8703 days lost to unauthorised absence in 2009/10. This averages out to about 8 days per pupil. This translates into 4% of schooling lost over the year. Of course averages disguise wide variation. So if, as I assume, the majority of pupils at St Paul's have very low rates of unauthorised absence in a year, then it follows that some of their pupils must have missed considerable chunks of their schooling without authorisation.

So, while I concede that there is a joint responsibility between parents and schools, what is the Education Convener, Liz Fordyce, going to do about this?



LIfeboat Carol Service St James' Church

On Monday evening the now traditional Christmas Carol Service at St James' Church in Broughty Ferry took place, which for me marks the real start of Christmas. This well attended service is also an important fundraiser for the Broughty Ferry lifeboat which benefits from the collection.

This year the seasonal snow outside added to the occasion. Inside it was the turn of Forthill Primary School Choir to perform for us. It was lovely to hear the children's rendition of some of the well loved Christmas songs and carols. Hearing the children singing 'Little Jesus Sweetly Sleep' was my particular favourite.

Undoubtedly, the congregation also gave generously to the funding of the lifeboat which tonight was thankfully not called out to a rescue but tied up on its moorings just beyond The Lifeboat Church.

Afterwards hot drinks and Christmas pies were served in the Church Hall.


SNP's Education Convener Should Explain her Education Cuts to Parents

Yesterday, I challenged the SNP's Education Convener to explain her proposed 19 education cuts to parents and carers in the city. I suggested that early in January, she should hold meetings across Dundee to explain the changes she is introducing to parents and carers whose children will be on the receiving end of these.

The SNP's cuts in the city will involve reductions in key parts of the education service and I think all schools will be affected. The Education Convener, Councillor Liz Fordyce needs to spell out what each of her nineteen cuts will involve. So far she hasn't explained the impact of what each of these will represent on the ground for the education of our children. This needs to be clear primarily to parents and carers as well as opposition councillors like me.

In last week's local papers the Education Convener, was asked about her city campus idea. This will apparently see senior pupils move round the city to take some of their higher examination courses at schools other than their own. On Wednesday last week, Councillor Fordyce revealed that she had not yet considered the transport arrangements and costs of moving senior pupils around the city. On Thursday, she also admitted that the coordinated timetabling necessary between the nine secondary schools in the city had yet to be worked out too.

Another area needing clarification is the impact of the early retirement savings. How many fewer teacher will be working in our schools as a result of these changes and how will each school be affected? For example, I understand that there will be an overall reduction in the number of support for learning teachers in primary and secondary schools. This will reduce the help available to children with learning difficulties. These are certainly not 'back office' jobs.

So I think Councillor Liz Fordyce should get out and explain her programme of cuts to parents in the city. I and my colleagues in the Labour Group are of course prepared to attend the meetings with parents I am urging her to organise. Before she says that we will need to wait until after the Council's budget on Thursday 10 February, parents do need to be informed now. All these changes may affect the school parents want to send their child to from August 2011. If parents want to send in a placing request to the Council, these need to be submitted by Monday 7 February.


Grove Academy Top Performing Secondary School in Tayside

Congratulations to pupils and staff at Grove Academy for achieving the best Higher examination results in Tayside this summer. They outperformed every secondary school in Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross, coming in 16th place out of 379 secondary schools in Scotland.

School Grove Academy Broughty Ferry

Rank 16th place out of 379 secondary Schools in Scotland

School Abs 1.2 %
- % unauthorised absences for S1 - 5

Meals 5.7% - % pupils registered for free meals

High1 60% -
% of the S4 year group from the previous year achieving one or more awards at A- C (SCQF Level 6) Higher or better

High3 42% -
% of the S4 year group from the previous year achieving three or more awards at A- C (SCQF Level 6) Higher or better

High5 25%
- % of the S4 year group from the previous year achieving five or more awards at A- C (SCQF Level 6) Higher or better

Will SNP's £4.5 million Education Cuts make the city's education service better?

Councillor Liz Fordyce, the SNP's Education Convener in Dundee yesterday made a startling statement to the Evening Telegraph about her 19 separate cuts in Dundee schools.

She "insisted budget cuts of more than £4million will make the city's education service better."

By her own logic, I wonder why she's holding back and not cutting the education budget by £8 million to make our schools even better!

Today, I want to examine, 'the city campus' idea for senior secondary pupils. This would see a narrower range of higher and advance higher classes offered in some secondary schools with pupils moving around the city to take subjects not offered in their own schools.

I fear that "the city campus" will make many of our secondary schools less comprehensive by siphoning off their pupils in the fifth and sixth years. This could lead to two tier secondary schools and a reintroduction of junior secondary schools by the back door.

The SNP have clearly not thought this through. Yesterday, their Education Convener revealed that she had yet considered the transport arrangements and costs of moving pupils round the city. This morning she admitted that the timetabling necessary between the nine secondary schools in the city had yet to be worked out too.

Half-baked and misguided or what?


Disastrous Double Whammy of Cuts in Education in Dundee

Despite Labour opposition, last night the SNP Council approved the cuts in Education imposed by John Swinney for a Council Tax freeze and also gave notice of their £4.5 million cuts that will be contained in their February budget.

This is a disastrous double whammy of cuts in Education in Dundee.

It's difficult to believe that these cuts have been carefully considered. According to the Chief Executive last night, SNP Councillors only saw and approved their City Council budget cuts at the second meeting of the Changing for the Future Board held yesterday afternoon.

I shall take up the offer from the Leader of the Council, to meet with, Liz Fordyce, the SNP's Convener of Education. I think parents in the city would expect that she should be able to supply me with a detailed written briefing on each of the 19 cuts she has chosen. If I am not satisfied with the details I receive, I shall demand to see the Director of Education.

This is just another disaster for Education in the City following the 6% reduction in the education budget this financial year. I don't think parents in the city will agree that an Education budget cut for next year of £4.5 million is a success.


Tenor Triumphs at Choral Union Concert

I thoroughly enjoyed the Opera Night gala performance by Dundee Choral Union, earlier tonight.

Under the baton of Norman Beedie, the choir sung a range of classic opera choruses augmented by the National Youth Choir of Scotland and accompanied by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.

Welsh tenor Gywn Hughes-Jones provided some star quality. His performance of Verdi's Nessum Dorma provided a fitting climax to the evening. A thunderous round of applause persuaded Gwyn to perform an encore to an appreciative audience.

Dundee Choral Union was founded 152 years ago and is one of our oldest established cultural organisations in the city.


Santa Claus Visits Broughty Ferry Library on Saturday Morning

Santa Claus is taking time out from his busy schedule for a flying visit to Broughty Ferry Library between 10am and 12noon on Saturday 11 December.

Children of all ages are welcome.
Entry is free.

There will also be festive crafts.

Broughty Ferry Library

Queen Street
Broughty Ferry
tel 01382 436919

Promoted by Leisure and Communities


Sharp Reduction in Employment of Post Probationary Teachers

New statistics released by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) (see table) indicate a further reduction in the numbers of post-probationary teachers gaining permanent jobs in Scotland.

More specifically, the percentage of probationary staff who have obtained full time permanent posts has now fallen to just 16.1 per cent - a record low and it means that fewer than 1 in 6 new teachers get a full time permanent job. Also over a quarter of probationary teachers now have no teaching job at all.

These figures come only a week after the number of employed teachers in Scotland fell by another 800 – down by over 3000 since the SNP came to power - and the pupil teacher ratio rose again to 1 teacher to 13.3 pupils.

These figures demonstrate the damage being done to Scottish education and the careers of newly qualified teachers by the SNP's mismanagement of Scottish education. Highly trained and well-qualified teachers are being treated as a casualised workforce, obliged to look for work on a weekly or daily basis. Because the SNP has broken their promises on teacher numbers and class sizes, very few newly qualified teachers are obtaining permanent or even temporary employment.

Warm Pipes Happy Home

Scottish Water, have launched a campaign 'Keep your Pipes Warm This Winter'.

Their website contains lots of useful advice, including video clips about how to protect your home from frozen pipes.

If you do however experience frozen pipes, they also provide handy online tutorials on how to minimise the damage to your home and ensure your safety before your plumber arrives.


School Attendance Friday 3 December

On Friday 3 December six of the nine Secondary Schools reopened in the city following inclement weather which had closed all of the schools in Dundee. The following attendance figures have been supplied by the Director of Education, Jim Collins:

Craigie High School

150-200 pupils (21%) and 63 teachers (93%)

Grove Academy
500 pupils (47%) and 75 teachers (92%)

Harris Academy
400 pupils (36%) and 83 teachers (92%)

Morgan Academy
190 pupils (21%) and 67 teachers (91%)

St John's High School
100-150 pupils (14%) and 59 teachers (83%)

St Paul's Academy
80 pupils (8%) and 74 teachers (96%)

In addition
142 teachers from the three closed schools were able to report to the above schools.


Statement to the Education Committee - blanket school closures & staged reopenings

Earlier today I wrote to the the Education Convener, Councillor Liz Fordyce.
I wrote:
"Given the exceptional weather last week and the blanket school closures and the staged re-openings on Friday and today (Monday) I think it is important that you make a statement to the Education Committee tonight. In particular, I think parents and the members of the Education Committee want reassurance that lessons have been learned and solutions applied from last week and today which will improve how our schools operate tomorrow.

I have received numerous complaints this morning from parents across the city directly or passed on from my Labour Group colleagues. These have focused on the dangerousness of roads and paths outside our schools, the absence of school crossing patrollers and limitations on the scope for their work because of snow accumulations

More specifically I think parents will want to know:
  • how the safety of our children is ensured in the environs of schools including pavement clearing and gritting and the attendance of crossing patrol staff or when they are missing police officers;
  • processes of communication with parents and staff of arrangements for the closing and reopening of our schools and other education establishments and
  • use of the GLOW intranet for engaging pupils in their learning during a period of one week's lost schooling."
Liz declined to do make a statement to the Education Committee.

Residents Overlooked by Snow Clearing Suffer Vandalism to Their Cars

Residents in Carbane Drive in the Ferry have found their patience severely tested over the last week. They have found it almost impossible to drive in or out of their cul-de-sac because of accumulated snow and ice and an absence of a grit bin. On Sunday morning, they were still waiting for a snow plough to come down Wemyss Gardens and clear their way out to Balgillo Road. As a result, some residents had taken to parking their cars overnight on Balgillo Road. On Sunday morning, these residents were very annoyed to find that cars parked on Balgillo Road had been vandalised with wiper blades and aerials broken off.

One of the residents of Carbane Drive said,
"I am sure you can understand my frustration and anger - if grit had been delivered to the bottom as well as the top of the hill my car would have been safe and I would not be out of pocket. I would have been cheaper buying the grit myself rather than paying repairs. Unless of course I can deduct the cost of the repairs from a future council tax bill?"

Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:
"The perpetrators of this vandalism are mean and mindless. That residents vehicles became vulnerable to attack because of a lack of a grit bin and snow clearing near their owners' homes leads to questions about why it took so long for the Council to clear access to Carbane Drive. Thankfully, I understand that Carnbane Drive was gritted on Sunday afternoon. I shall expect that the request I made last week for the provision of an additional grit bin for Carbane Drive is now actioned so that these residents can help themselves to keep traffic moving in and out of their road when it snows again."


All Dundee Schools Intend to Open on Monday 6 December

Dundee City Council is intending to open all nursery, primary and secondary schools on Monday (December 6). This is dependent on weather conditions over the weekend.

Gritting and snow-clearing will continue over the weekend. Priority routes in the city are all passable and intermediate routes around schools are being treated.


Six City Secondary Schools to Reopen on Friday

In a press release this afternoon, Dundee City Council have indicated that: "Six (out of nine) city secondary schools will open tomorrow (Friday December 3). They are:
  • Craigie High,
  • Grove Academy,
  • Harris Academy,
  • Morgan Academy,
  • St John's High and
  • St Paul's Academy.
All other Dundee schools will remain closed on Friday. Pupils at schools which remain closed have an opportunity to work online through their Glow account where educational resources are available."

Apparently, teachers employed at the remaining three secondary schools in the city:
  • Baldragon Academy,
  • Braeview Academy and
  • Menzieshill High School,
have been temporarily redeployed to the nearest secondary school to their home address until their schools reopen.

Further updates will be posted on the council's website and through the council's Twitter feed


All Dundee Schools Closed on Thursday for Fourth Day on the Trot

In an update on their website at 5.30pm Wednesday 1st December, the City Council announced that:

"All Dundee City Council schools will remain closed tomorrow (Thursday December 2)
because of the continuing severe weather conditions, the forecast of more snowfall and issues with safe access."

Perhaps recognising that this closure will almost complete a week of lost schooling and some pupils will be sitting their 'prelims' soon, they added:
"Pupils have an opportunity to work on-line through their Glow account*."

I wonder whether our housebound teachers are expected to take advantage of accessing their Glow accounts* too?

Updates will be posted on the city council's website and via the city council's twitter feed

Glow is the world's first national intranet for education that is transforming the way the curriculum is delivered in Scotland.

All Council Offices and Facilities Closed Today Wednesday

The chief Executive of the council, David Dorward, has just emailed staff and elected members to advise that:

"I have decided to close all Council offices and facilities due to the deterioration in the weather overnight. This means that the City Chambers is also closed."