Opening of Kingspark School - Credit Where Credit is Due

I attended the official opening of the new replacement Kingspark School on Friday 18 February.

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning unveiled the opening plaque. The real stars of the event were the children who performed in a concert for the assembled invited guests, parents and a majority of the pupils. The programme was introduced by Mrs Laura Smith, the Head Teacher. It included spirited performances by the Kingspark choir and instrumental groups. I particularly enjoyed their singing of Calendonia as well as their rendition of Mhairi's Wedding that accompanied children dancing on the stage.

The children's performances gave some indication to the remarkable capabilities and life skills that the school nurtures amongst pupils with a range of disabilities and learning difficulties. After the ceremony, guests were taken on a conducted tour of the school. The positivity of the school 's ethos permeated all that I observed.

I am proud to have been the Education Convener when the planning of this school was undertaken and sanctioned by the Council. This is another one of the legacy achievements of the then Labour led administration of the City Council that built six new Primary Schools and two new secondary schools under the auspices of its PPP building programme. Kingspark was in the next part of the Labour led council's ambitious capital plan which also included the replacement Whitfield Primary School and the two new twin campus primary schools in the Westend and Lochee/Charleston.

When delivering his speech, Mike Russell, suffered from political amnesia counting the new Kingspark School as though it was part of the SNP's school building programme. The school was in fact built with a mixture of local funding and prudential borrowing by the City Council.

So while celebrating another success of our Administration's legacy of new school building and school refurbishment in the city, it's difficult to identify the SNP school building legacy apart from Harris Academy whose construction is projected to begin in 2012/13. I hope for the sake of children being educated in unimproved schools that the SNP administration will indeed will indeed conjure up a school building programme, as they promised in May 2007, 'to match Labour's PPP programme brick for brick'.


SNP Councillors vote down £379,000 for Dundee Schools they had cut by £4.1 M

At the Council's Budget meeting on Thursday 10 February, the SNP group of fourteen Councillors, with the support of the Lord Provost, voted down the Labour amendment. We proposed to use savings we had identified, to restore more than a third of a million pounds to the Education budget.

Our proposals would have have made this a better budget by ensuring that:

  • no class lacks a supply teacher when a teacher is absent and when a school's budget for supply cover is exhausted;

  • curriculum for excellence developments will not be held back by reductions in the school's classroom expenses budget and

  • no pupil is denied access to an examination as a result of the cut in SQA examination fees for dual presentations because two examination certificates are better than the risk of none.

We believed that the best way to achieve our priorities was to pass these funds to the discretionary budgets of our head teachers so that they might have spent this on the most important priorities in their schools. In this way, teaching and learning in our schools would have been protected from the most damaging effects of the SNPs programmes of more than £4 million cuts.

Unfortunately, our school children and their schools will have to suffer because the SNP insisted on protecting the budget for two civic cars and not one as we proposed. They also voted to protect money for beer and sandwiches for hospitality. They also voted to retain an unallocated bus route development fund. Why we would want to invest more money from the council tax to boost the profits of the bus company in Dundee beats me. I think most council taxpayers in Dundee would think this would be throwing good money after bad given the recent botched reorganisation of bus routes in the city.

So as the dust settles after our prolonged budget meeting, why does our SNP led Council prefer to retain the £379,000 savings we had identified and not shore up the Education budget they had raided? Why are beer and sandwiches and civic cars on the council tax more important than the Education of our children?

Dundee nursery, primary and secondary schools deserve better.


Budget Cuts in Education: Councillor Fordyce in Not for Turning

The committee papers for the budget setting meeting on Thursday 10 February were issued on Thursday 3 February. I have examined the papers about Schooling in Dundee and notice that they contain exactly the same budget cuts which our SNP led council announced just before Christmas. This is despite the submission of a considerable volume of public, professional and political representations about the shortcomings in these proposals.

Representatives of our Primary School Head Teachers and Depute Head Teachers, have informed me that they have felt sidelined from consultation about the proposed cuts in their schools. More disappointing is that their alternative budget options do not seem to have influenced the Education Convener, Councillor Liz Fordyce. The lady is obviously not for turning!

Interestingly Councillor Fordyce made a point of publicising her visits to every one of the Primary Schools in the city after she was appointed. I wonder what it was that persuaded her to reinstate management standards in our schools from 1972. Little evidence here of Changing for the Future, more like Back to the Future.

Dundee deserves better.


Questions Remain About Transfer of Broughty Ferry Library

In Thursday's Evening Telegraph and Friday's Courier, I raised issues about the proposed transfer of management of our library in Broughty Ferry to an arms length, Leisure and Cultural Services Trust.

Please can the Leader of the Council, Ken Guild, respond to the issues I have raised and not deflect these as 'obscure political points'?

Firstly, why has his administration chosen not to set up a new arms length organisation specifically for libraries and museums? This arms length body will require a majority of independent and unpaid board
members. If it focuses just on Libraries and Museums it's not difficult to imagine appropriately qualified volunteers coming forward. But lumping in all of Dundee Leisure's empire of sports halls, pitches and swimming pools doesn't to my mind add up into a coherent set of activities. I think it will lead to a divided board between those with sports and those with cultural interests. The option of a stand alone charitable 'cultural organisation' to manage libraries, museums and the
Caird Hall is dismissed in one paragraph (para 6.2 page 105) in the
Committee Report for the budget meeting next week. This is hardly an option appraisal.

Secondly, I am also worried that the external legal advice to be sought by the council is only to determine ensuring:
'(1) maximistation of financial savings to the council;
(2) protection for the staff being transferred.'
(para 6.3 page 105)

What about the protection of book borrowing and reading provided 'free' at the point of use? This seems like another example of short term cuts and long term damage to local services.

Maybe Councillor Guild can whip his
SNP group to vote this through at the Budget meeting on Thursday 10 February, but if won't mean he has won the argument in the Ferry. If he barges ahead, folk in the Ferry may want to examine the terms of the 1913 Boundaries Act. If, like me, they see their library under threat, they may want to use the law to push for another option that adequately protects their library for the future.

Broughty Ferry deserves better.


Budget Options for our Schools should be Scrutinised by the Education Committee

In yesterday’s Courier, the Education Convener, Councillor Liz Fordyce, denied that school closures and mergers were being considered. This denial was called into question by an email from the Director of Education received by Political Group Leaders yesterday morning. This confirmed that the Education Department had received detailed alternative budget savings put forward by Head Teachers and Depute Head Teachers in Dundee Schools forwarded by the Dundee Primary Head Teachers’ Association. The Director also confirmed that these had been submitted as part of their consultation on the budget cuts.

The Dundee Primary Head Teachers wrote:
‘In closing, as senior managers in schools ……. There remains a strong feeling that school rationalisation should have been and must be considered. We appreciate the proposed savings (we have identified) are Revenue budget savings but would suggest that some of these could be offset by Capital savings.’

Since one assumes that the views of these senior teachers' in our schools have been read and studied and weighed by the Directorate and the Education Convener, it follows that their options have been or are being considered.

Yesterday, the Education Convener once again resorted to personal insults in relation to the issues I had raised about the budget cuts in Dundee schools. I think that people who resort to lashing out like that have lost the argument. Another technique she has used to shut down debate is to deny opportunities for the Education Committee of the council to discuss her cuts before they are presented to the Budget meeting next Thursday

I have consistently claimed in the council chamber and the press for an opportunity for the Education Committee to examine the SNP's budget reductions in Education. The Education Committee should be the place where these issues are scrutinised by Councillors alongside members of the Committee drawn from the teaching profession and religious leaders in the city.

Why is the Convener afraid to present her budget proposals to the Education Committee? What has she got to hide?"


Still Time for a Rethink on Budget Cuts in Education?

In the last week, Councillors and the Education Directorate have received numerous written representations about the proposed education cuts. This has included communications from Head Teachers and Depute Head Teachers in the City, representatives of the Church, Teacher Unions and parents.

These people and organisations have without exception been registering their grave concerns about the package of savings proposed for our schools in Dundee.

It seems from my mailbox that the Education Convener, Councillor Liz Fordyce, is the only person in Dundee who thinks that the SNP’s programme of £4.1 million cuts will improve education in the city.

One recurring issue from the representations I have received is about the unfairness of the impact of the proposed changes in education. There is concern that about where the impact of these cuts will be hardest felt. It seems likely that it is in the areas of the city with the highest levels of poverty and unemployment that the proposed cuts will bite hardest, especially by reducing the number of teachers in local primary schools.

The Head Teachers and Depute Head Teachers have not only identified their concerns but also have identified their own alternative budget savings including merging smaller primary schools and moving smaller primary schools to share premises with a local secondary school.

I understand that the Administration is currently considering these alternative savings and has not ruled out school closures and mergers. While Labour would not support school closures, I think parents, teachers and members of the Education Committee should be allowed to discuss the Education cuts and potential alternatives before they are adopted in a block at the Budget meeting next week. If that means a delay in the budget process, so be it. I think the public would expect their politicians should leave no stone unturned in finding the least damaging reductions in Education in the city.

Broughty Library - Is Transfer of Management Legal and Wise?

As part of the SNP's budget cuts,the well used and much loved Broughty Ferry Library will be set to managed by an arms length body, a not for profit organisation, rather than directly by the Council. While this is claimed to save money, is it legal and is the proposed form of management the best option?

Our Broughty Ferry library was one of the incentives provided by the then City Council to entice the former Broughty Ferry Borough Council to throw in their lot with Dundee. The 1913 Act of Parliament that annexed Broughty Ferry to Dundee made it clear that Dundee Council would provide and maintain a library in Broughty Ferry within five years of the annexation. This was duly provided. I am querying now how how this commitment stands. Can the council claim that it meeting this historic obligation while passing it on to an arms length body not under the direct control of the council?

Whether or not it is legally feasible, and I am sure legal officers will report on this, I am not convinced that the proposed successor body is the best solution for our library in the Ferry. The SNP led council's solution is to pass our library on to a reconstituted and expanded Dundee Leisure Trust along with all the other libraries in Dundee and the museums. I think at the very least a separate trust should be considered for Museums and Libraries in the city.

Do swimming pools, gyms, libraries and museums hang together? I notice that leading private sector leisure companies, such as David Lloyd Leisure and Bannantine Leisure Clubs don't also run museums and libraries. Will the independent directors of the proposed company have broad enough interests to focus on libraries and community learning as well as aerobics, swimming and hockey?

I think Councillor Ken Guild, Leader of the Council, should think again about the wisdom of the changes to library management his administration is proposing for Broughty Ferry.

First Click Courses in Broughty Ferry & Dundee

Using computers and the internet is easier than you think. You can join a beginners' course and have a go using a computer for yourself.

Free short courses are starting soon at libraries in Dundee.

To find out about courses available ring:
Freephone 08000 150 950
8am to 10pm, 7 days a week

To book a place in Broughty Ferry community library, drop into the library or ring the library 01382 436919


Council Should Revive Plans for Extension and Improvement of Barnhill Primary School

With confirmed pressure on school places a growing issue in the north of Broughty Ferry and especially in the catchment area of Barnhill Primary School, it makes sense for the council to revive its plans to refurbish and extend the school in a manner similar to the development of Forthill Primary School. This could not only expand the school from two to three form entry but also move the nursery out of the temporary huts where it is currently located.

In fact the council applied for and received outline planning consent for such a development in Spring 2002.

I think parents should expect that the council must now revive these plans as a matter of urgency. I shall be looking for this to be included in the revised capital plan which the council will be bringing forward soon.

Of course this will not provide an immediate solution to the lack of capacity this year but might reassure families living in the Barnhill Primary School catchment area that that the council have a satisfactory rather than makeshift longer term solution.