Pupil Absences in Dundee Schools - Education Committee Monday 27 January 2014

I placed Pupil Absences in Dundee Schools on the Agenda of the Education Committee held on Monday 27 January because I think the thousands of missed school days in Dundee matters. 

The statistics published by the Scottish Government in December indicated the extent of pupil absences in Dundee Schools. Their table of results indicated that Dundee was the bottom of the league table of 32 education authorities on these measures.

These statistics showed that in 2012/13 the percentage attendance in Scottish local authority schools ranged from the highest 95.5 per cent (East Renfrewshire) to the lowest 92.3 per cent (Dundee City). This means Dundee has the highest pupil absence rate in Scotland in the last complete school year. A 3.2 per cent difference may not seem much but translated into days missed over a year it stacks up. In fact it means that on average, every pupil in Dundee misses more than one week more than pupils in East Renfrewshire. No wonder the exam results are better in East Renfrewshire.

Looking more closely at the figures for Dundee, it means that on average each pupil in Dundee misses fifteen days or three weeks of schooling a year. This adds up to almost one year of schooling lost by every pupil during their 5-16 compulsory school years. Of course I know that averages like this mask wide variations between schools and pupils. Some pupils will have perfect attendance and so by implication some pupils must be absent for lengthy periods of time.

Any day of absence from school is a day of missed learning opportunities. If we want to increase the attainment of our pupils, we need to reduce the number of days at school that are lost through absence for reasons that are avoidable.

This was reinforced by the publication of OECD international research about truancy. This report said that higher truancy rates in schools throughout Britain are leaving pupils lagging behind their peers in top-performing nations across Europe and the Far East. More specifically the research showed that a fifth of pupils in UK secondary schools admitted to skipping a least a day of lessons over a two week period period to the survey.

Right now we need some detailed explanation of what is going wrong and why the absence rate has apparently been creeping up in Dundee but decreasing elsewhere. I think we need to hear from the Director of Education about a way forward. We need to hear more how our schools, working with pupils and parents and carers, are tackling this issue. It surely needs to be much more than the Education Convener’s advocacy of taking some secondary pupils on visits to meet offenders in prison.

Judging by the avoidance of detail about Absences, apart from ‘Exclusions’ in the annual Standards and Quality Report also on the Agenda last Monday, it looks as though, if I hadn’t raised this there would not have been an opportunity for the Education Committee to engage with this important issue.

At the end of this item the Education Committee approved my motion:

  • instructs the Education Director to include absence issues including but not exclusively exclusions in the annual standards and quality report to the Education Committee and 
  • recommends that strategies for absence reduction are given higher emphasis in the process of Annual Reviews and Extended School Reviews.


Extension to 30mph on Dundee Road From Wednesday 22 January

30 mph Road Sign
I have been advised that from Wednesday 22 January 2014 the section of Dundee Road, between Margaret Crescent/Broughty Ferry Road junction to Ellieslea Road junction will have a reduced speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph

'New 30 MPH Speed Limit In Force' signs will be erected to warn drivers about the new 30 mph section of Dundee Road.


Eastern Primary School: The Big Art Project Film

Eastern Primary School, Broughty Ferry
Back in 2011 Eastern Primary School was preparing to move from Whinny Brae to the former Grove Academy building on Camperdown Street. While the new premises offered more accommodation for the school, after nearly 100 years, there was considerable fondness amongst parents and carers and former pupils for the old school and its distinctive Victorian building. 

While their 'new' school building was being converted and upgraded, a Community Art Project involved the children and staff in designing a public art work that would encapsulate the history of the school and its significant move. The pupils' designs were incorporated in the intricate shapes for the new school gate which can now be seen on Church Street.

Ferry film maker Duncan Nicoll sensitively captured this process on video and produced a thirty minute documentary. While this has been previously shown to pupils, parents and carers at the school, it has now been uploaded to YouTube so that a wider audience can share the experience of the school preparing for the move and designing the 'gate'.

Link Eastern Primary School: The Big Art Project Film


Notorious Section of Ferry Pavement to be Renewed

Brook Street Pavements
I am pleased to report that another notorious section of rutted and cracked pavement on Brook Street is to be upgraded in early February. This is the section that runs on the south side of Brook Street between Gray Street and the Bruach Bar and Restaurant.

Work to upgrade this stretch of pavement is programmed to commence on Monday 3rd February 2014, and will last for approximately 2 weeks. The Contractor for the works is Tayside Contracts.

I complained to the Council about the 'crazy paving' on the stretch of footway outside the Grain Store and Hosie's Electrical shop in Autumn 2012 and suggested that it was an accident waiting to happen.

In Septmber 2013, I responded to the planned pavement upgrading in Gray Street by commenting that this was 100 yards better but that there was miles to go upgrading cracked and uneven pavements in The Ferry.

While this next phase of pavement reconstruction work is undertaken, the following temporary traffic restrictions will apply:

  • In the interest of public safety, a lane closure will be implemented and westbound traffic will be diverted via St Vincent Street, King Street and Gray Street for the duration of the works. 
  • The works will be carried out in sections, so that at least one area will be kept available for taxi parking adjacent to the works. Parking will still be allowed on the north side of Brook Street. 
  • Access to car parks within this area will be maintained, and vehicular, delivery access will be maintained to properties, although we ask for vehicular traffic movements to be kept to a minimum where possible.
  • Some minor delays may be encountered during some phases of the works.

If you have any queries regarding the traffic restrictions, please contact Mr L Grubb, Senior Engineer, Roads Maintenance Partnership, by telephoning 01382 434000.


Commenting on the SNP's Proposed Further Cuts in Dundee Primary Schools

Budget Cuts
Once again the SNP Administration have not spared our primary schools from their cuts announced late on Wednesday afternoon. 

At a time when the Primary School rolls are rising with 300 additional pupils expected across the the city in August this year, Primary Schools will have to make nearly half a million pounds of further savings on staff.

In addition, robbing many Primary Schools of their Early Years Practitioner so that they can be redeployed in Nursery Schools to help provide the extra nursery hours is robbing Peter to pay Paul. 

When I have visited Primary School recently Head Teachers have told me about the challenging agenda for change  they are leading in their schools including the Curriculum for Excellence and the new Read Write Inc programme and initiatives for numeracy as well. Along side this they will now be also expected to reduce their school's energy consumption by 5% in 2014/15 and a further 5% in 2015/16. While reducing waste seems like an obvious target for savings, many schools lack adequate controls on site for the school's heating system. It's difficult to be held responsible for expenditure over which you have limited practical control. Presumably a school that doesn't achieve its projected energy savings will have to reduce expenditure elsewhere in order to pay for the gas and electricity.

Many of these short term cuts will inevitably inflict long term damage in our schools. Dundee deserves better!


New Flood Risk Maps Available Online

Flood Risk Map Tay Estuary 2014
Click on image to enlarge
Earlier this week, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) announced that it had made available on its website enhanced definition maps of flood risks in Scotland.

These maps show that both banks of the Tay estuary are rated as 'high risk' for potential coastal flooding as is the Dighty as it flows through the Ferry Ward.

Residents who live in Fisher Street and Beach Crescent have already had water lapping almost to the top of the rows of sandbags this year. The residents of Balmossie Mill in Panmurefield know to their cost the threat that the Dighty in spate can pose to their homes.

Last year Councillors received a report from the City Engineer about flood risk and prevention in Dundee and how plans to mitigate these risks would be submitted to the Scottish Government for funding.

Click on this link to go to the online flood maps


Time to Hear About Proposed Cuts in Dundee Schools

At the end of October, Councillor Ken Guild, the Leader of the Administration of the Council  publicly warned that: there were 'Unpleasant decisions' on the way as the Council finds £17 million of saving over the next two financial years.

More than two months later, we are no further forward learning what cuts Councillor Guild's SNP administration are bringing forward. Judging by the budget options Angus Council put out for public consultation in a survey in October, some of the options being considered in secret by SNP Councillors in Dundee may indeed be unpleasant and unpalatable. 

I understand that the Education Convener Councillor Stewart Hunter has arranged to meet the Chairs of Parent Council's about his proposed cuts on Thursday this week.

I think parents and carers in the city, teachers and support staff, along with opposition councillors like me also deserve proper advance warning of what is being contemplated so that we can scrutinise these and decide whether there are less damaging choices that should be considered. 

Councillor Hunter should also bring his Education budget cuts to the Education Committee where there are a number of external members including a senior pupil together with religious, trade union and parent representatives.


Concern that new Olympia Swimming Pool is Operating More Like a Private Sports Club

I have received a complaint from a constituent about the new admissions policy at the Olympia which I understand came into effect on 1st November 2013. 

With regard to access to swimming in the 50 metre pool between 6 - 8 am (the only time the 50m set up is in place) and 8 - 9.30 pm it is apparently necessary to both:

  • a Leisure Active member, incurring a minimum charge of £19 per month paid from a bank account and
  • apply to Dundee City Council for a National Entitlement Card to use as a swipe card to gain access to Olympia. 

For those that want to swim at these times and in particular swim in Dundee's only 50 metre pool, there is apparently no casual turn up and pay access to Olympia. During these times the Olympia seems to be operating more like a private health club and not like a publicly provided swimming pool.

If my constituent was right, this policy seems discriminatory because many folk in our city could not afford the monthly cost of a Leisure Active membership. It also seems to exclude folk who want to swim lengths and are not members of Swimming Clubs. While access to Olympia is more flexible later in the morning and afternoon, the fifty metre layout is not available during those times.

This seems to be contrary to the public service obligation which follows the Council's investment of £31,5 million in this new facility. As an elected member of the Council that supported the replacement of the Olympia, I didn't think this was what the Council was investing in.

I wrote to Stewart Murdoch in his twin capacities as Managing Director of Leisure and Culture Dundee and Director of Leisure and Communities with the City Council. I asked that, if  indeed this is the new policy at Olympia, he and the board of Dundee Leisure and Culture reconsider this.

In his reply Stewart Murdoch confirmed that Olympia had indeed discontinued the use of paper tickets for early morning swimming for non members although it was exploring the feasibility of a 'swim only' membership. This however doesn't address the issue I have raised. I have asked for a more comprehensive review into access arrangements at Olympia.


ScotRail Impose Above Inflation Fare Increases and No Appreciable Improvements in Broughty Ferry Timetable

Broughty Ferry Station
Earlier this month, ScotRail increased rail fares for commuters and those needing to travel at 'peak' times by 3.1 per cent, while off-peak tickets were frozen. 

This above inflation increase of 'peak' fares was not matched by any significant improvements to the number of trains stopping in Broughty Ferry on the new timetable that began on 9 December.

Having to pay higher rail fares was disappointing news for all rail passengers in Scotland. It was however particularly disappointing for those who have been put off or inconvenienced by the irregular train times and the long gaps between some services stopping at Broughty Ferry station. 

The current timetable certainly falls far short of the recommendations of the Tay Valley Rail Study. That report made the case for a regular hourly service connecting Broughty Ferry with Dundee, Perth and Glasgow in the west and stations to Aberdeen in the North.

I understand that any more service improvements depend on the Scottish Government specifying these in the new franchise for train services in Scotland which is to be awarded soon.

There was one rather obscure additional Monday - Friday service improvement. There is an additional very early morning train that runs north to Aberdeen calling at Broughty Ferry at 5:46 am. It is the only service of the day which runs through Aberdeen as far as Inverness without changing trains.

Link to the current ScotRail timetable for trains to and from Broughty Ferry Station effective from 9 December 2013


Report to January 2014 Meeting of Broughty Ferry Community Council

Broughty Ferry Community Council Logo
On Tuesday night 7 January, I attended the monthly meeting of Broughty Ferry Community Council. Here are some extracts from my report to the Community Council:

Dog Poo in Dawson Park 
Following complaints from a junior football club about dog poo on Sports Pitches in Dawson Park which they rent from the city council, I have requested more vigilance by the dog wardens in the park. Link to more about this issue.

Illuminated Signs in Brook Street
I followed up a constituent complaint about illuminated advertising panels attached to bus shelters in Brook Street outside Marks and Spencer. The planning department clarified that permission was granted for this and other illuminated panels on bus shelters in The Ferry in August 2007 under delegated powers to planners. Link to full posting about this.

Scottish Water
Following comments at the Community Council's December meeting, I sought clarification on the timescale for undertaking work on the intermittently leaking sewer under the beach near Douglas Terrace.

I also followed up the complaint made by Community Councillor David Hewick about the most recent flooding at Cedar Road. It is clear that Scottish Water's investment plans will need to be modified in order to put in place the upgrading of the capacity to main drainage in order to mitigate the flooding and sewage spillage coming up through the drains. Link to more about this issue.

Bett Homes and Dundee City Council
In December, I was pleased to see the resolution of a near 50 year old ownership anomaly that affected twelve driveways in Falkland Crescent. Bett Homes funded the upgrading of the portion of householder's driveways that runs over grass margins to the roadside. The City Council have now adopted the driveways. Link to more about this issue.

Forthill Primary School
In mid December a man was knocked down at the end of Marlee Road in Broughty Ferry. An ambulance was called and took the person involved  to Ninewells hospital. This occurred close to the leaving time for pupils at the nearby Forthill Primary School. I have informed Police Scotland in Dundee and Neil Gellatly from Transportation about this to ensure the incident is logged. Link to more about this issue.

Broughty Ferry Community Council meets on the first Tuesday of every month (excluding August) in the Community Library, Queen Street, Broughty Ferry Dundee DD5 2HN. Community Council meetings begin at 7pm and are open to the public. 


Free School Meals for Primary 1-3 Pupils in Dundee

School lunch for pupils at Longhaugh Primary School
On Tuesday 7 January, the Scottish Government announced that, with effect from January 2015, it will introduce free school meals for all pupils in Primary 1-3 pupils in Scotland.  This follows the planned introduction of free school meals in England from September 2012.
The announcement of the extension of free school meals to all pupils in primary school classes P1-3 in England was made back in September 2013. As a consequence, there was additional and proportional cash committed by the UK Government to the Scottish Government. It is disappointing that the Scottish Government took so long to make up their mind how they would use this additional funding, which has meant that the introduction in Scotland has been delayed by five months.
On Tuesday there was vigorous debate in the Scottish Government about whether free school meals was the best use of the additional funding, when a substantial proportion of children from households with the lowest incomes already receive free school meals. But now the decision has been made, in Dundee we will need to turn our attention to how best to implement this decision. Hopefully, offering free school meals to children in primary one to primary three in our schools will help promote learning because a hungry child is less likely to be receptive to learning than one who has had a regular nutritious lunch.

I trust that the Scottish Government will promptly inform our Council of the small print of their programme so that the Council can make the necessary arrangements to deliver an anticipated increase in school meals in our Primary Schools from the projected start date in January 2015. The practical arrangements should not be underestimated, as some of our heavily subscribed schools may struggle to serve a larger number of children a school lunch because of existing pressure on kitchen and dining hall accommodation. These schools already have multiple sittings to cope with the demand for school lunches.
I have written to the Director of Education, Michael Wood, to ask him to advise the Education Committee about this as soon as practicable. He has reassured me that once the details of the scheme are provided, he will advise the Education Committee of the arrangements for Dundee Primary Schools.


Was Planning Permission Granted for this Illuminated Advertisement in The Ferry?

An illuminated advertisement on a bus shelter in Brook Street Broughty Ferry outside Marks and Spencer
A constituent has queried with me how it was that display advertisements on a bus shelter in Brook Street were now illuminated 24 hours a day? These illuminated advertisements seem to have replaced non illuminated ones which are a common feature of bus shelters in the city including The Ferry. 

The constituent thought that the illuminated advertisements were much more visually intrusive; which to the advertiser I suppose is the point of them?

I have written to the planning department for clarification.


Over 300 Intrepid Dookers Defy the Wind and Rain on New Year's Day 2014

Ready to Dook Broughty Ferry Harbour New Year's Day 2014
Despite the deteriorating weather, at 2:30 sharp, on New Year's Day over three hundred intrepid dookers took to the chilly and choppy water in Broughty Ferry harbour.

While many dookers were dressed in novelty outfits, some proved that their swimming was not compromised by their costumes.  Several swimmers demonstrated their confidence in open water by swimming right across the harbour and back, while a good few swam from the slipway right down to the end of the pier. 

If the swimmers were intrepid, so too were their supporters and the spectators who turned out in very good numbers to witness the first major event on The Broughty Ferry calendar.

The dook is very well established as a major spectator event attracting crowds in their thousands to Broughty Ferry harbour every new year's day. All credit to The Phibbies for organising another safe and successful dook. 


Broughty Ferry Dook 2:30pm Today 01.01.2014

Broughty Ferry New Year's Day Dook 2014
It's 1st January 2014 and the event of the day is the famous Broughty Ferry Dook, reputedly Scotland's biggest, at the harbour!

Swimmers in the water at 2:30pm

Fun events leading up to the dook.

Happy New Year 2014

Wishing all my constituents a happy new year 2014