A personal perspective on the plans to remove trained teachers from Edinburgh's nurseries.

The Scottish Government has forced £590m of new commitments on to Councils, but have given them only £495m to undertake the work. Edinburgh has a £35m black hole to fill.

It is heart-breaking that the poorest people in Edinburgh will feel the impact of this most.  The Oxgangs area of my Ward alone will see:

  1. Over ninety-thousand pounds slashed from school budgets;
  2. A threat to nursery teacher posts;
  3. Community policing cut,
  4. Local library opening hours cut; and,
  5. The unfair Council Tax will rise by almost 5%.

Many of these cuts were proposed last year, but were blocked. With regard to removing nursery teachers, I did manage to help win the argument against it. This year, however, it is proving tougher. Below is a message I received from a nursery teacher regarding what she feels the impact will be in attainment.

From a nursery teacher:
I am writing to you regarding the Early Years Service and Management Reform proposals as stated in the City of Edinburgh Council’s Finance and Resources Committee document, to remove/redeploy nursery teachers and nursery headteachers from their posts in the City of Edinburgh Council nurseries/Early Years teams. 

Edinburgh has a long and proud tradition of providing quality nursery provision within the city.  Nursery teachers and headteachers, supported today by a growing team of professionals in modern-day settings, are the reason for this internationally respected tradition.  Links to the work of nursery pioneers, supported through courses at Edinburgh University, continue to inform, direct and inspire teachers today.  As a nursery teacher and current student taking part in the Edinburgh University Froebel course, I can see the lasting positive impact highly trained, and educated teaching professionals have had on my own experience of attending St. Mary’s nursery in Leith, my practice as a teacher both in Scotland and internationally, my nieces and nephews education and the children in my care.

Removing highly trained and educated teaching professionals from nursery/Early Years teams may provide a short-term economic gain; however, the longer-term impact on future social, academic and financial issues will continue to be felt for years to come. 

The Scottish Government’s ambition is for Scotland to be the best place to grow up. One way they wish to achieve this is to raise attainment and reduce educational inequity across Scotland.  In order to accomplish this, more highly qualified teachers are needed to work with children during the most crucial periods in their development.  The Scottish Government document, The Early Years Framework, states that the most critical time in a child’s life is during the pre-birth to three years period in ensuring favourable future life chances.  The second period is three years to seven years.  It is during these critical times that early intervention can support children and families in breaking these cycles of poor outcomes.

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Provision project has found that outcomes for children who attend high-quality settings before starting school achieved higher literacy and numeracy levels than those who did not.  These findings are similar to those of the Field Report.  The Effective Provision of Pre-School Provision project also found that:

  1. quality was higher in settings where care and education were integrated,
  2. settings with staff with higher qualifications had higher quality scores and the children made more significant progress,
  3. having a trained teacher as manager and qualified teachers on the team led to more positive, warm relationships with the children,
  4. where education and social development were viewed as complementary and equal in importance, children made more considerable progress,
  5. teaching approaches such as ‘sustained shared thinking’, effective and appropriate pedagogy and instructive learning environments all extended learning,
  6. children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitted significantly, from good quality pre-school education.

The Scottish Government understands the importance of having highly qualified and educated teachers working with children in a measure to reduce the attainment gap and has invested in the Additional Graduate Programme.  The City of Edinburgh Council proposal suggests replacing degree-qualified teachers, some with postgraduate and Masters level education, with Early Years Practitioners.  The difference in qualification, educational pedagogy, training and perspective between these two very different jobs is significant.  Early Years Practitioners are trained to SVQ3/HNC level, which is SCQF level 7.  A degree is SCQF level 10 with subsequent postgraduate levels of 10, 11 and above.  Several Scottish universities are now only offering initial teacher training at Masters level, in a bid to raise attainment and outcomes for future generations.

Recent Care Inspectorate findings show that 4 Scottish local authorities who do not have teachers in nursery are performing well below the national average, and significantly below the City of Edinburgh Council level of 81% (West Dumbarton (32%), Moray (55%), Borders (58%) and Highland (70%)).  Dundee council are increasing their numbers of nursery teachers with the aim of closing the attainment gap.  Removing teachers and nursery teachers will likely remove the City of Edinburgh Council’s sector-leading status as quality nursery providers and reduce the Care Inspectorate gradings. 

It is essential that children build stable and consistent relationships with their caregivers as a strong attachment is paramount for their cognitive development.  Close working relationships between professionals are also crucial in ensuring a consistent, supportive approach.  This will also be harder to develop and nurture if the teacher is not always on-site as part of the nursery team.  The example from East Lothian Council has shown that peripatetic teams are not successful, as many teachers leave to work in nursery classes, leading to instability and constant change. 

The aim to close the attainment gap while supporting all children is an enormous challenge.  Ensuring that the youngest children have access to motivated, qualified and educated teachers will help in realising this challenge.  I feel it would be a false economy to remove nursery teachers and headteachers from nurseries as it is here at the beginning of a child’s life that the most positive impact can be made.

UPDATE – City of Edinburgh Council Budget

The Evening News headline claiming the Council Tax rise would be used to fund new schools in Edinburgh (Report, 10.02.20) is nothing more than a cynical piece of spin.  The reality is that Council Tax is going up and school budgets are going down due to Scottish Government cuts.

The Scottish Government has forced £590m of new commitments on to Councils, but have given them only £495m to undertake the work. Edinburgh has a £35m black hole to fill.

It is heart-breaking that the poorest people in Edinburgh will feel the impact of this most.  The Oxgangs area of my Ward alone will see:

  1. Over ninety-thousand pounds slashed from school budgets;
  2. A threat to nursery teacher posts;
  3. Community policing cut,
  4. Local library opening hours cut; and,
  5. The unfair Council Tax will rise by almost 5%.

The cuts in schools kids in my Ward attend are roughly as follows:

  1. Bonaly Primary – £17,000
  2. Buckstone Primary – £18,000
  3. Colinton Primary – £7,000
  4. Juniper Green Primary – £13,000
  5. Oxgangs Primary – £10,000
  6. Pentland Primary – £14,000
  7. St Mark’s Primary – £4,000
  8. St Peter’s Primary – £15,000
  9. Boroughmuir High School – £75,000
  10. Currie High School – £45,000
  11. Balerno High School – £45,000
  12. Firrhill High School – £70,000
  13. St. Thomas of Aquin’s High School – £45,000

A cut to libraries is a cut to education and well-being, and will only increase social isolation. When I was elected in 2017 I pledged to voters in my ward that I would protect library opening hours, and I don’t see that changing. 

How can the head-teacher at Firrhill High School in my Ward raise attainment when Scottish Government cuts will mean his budget is cut by £70,000?

The SNP Government must think again. Please write to your MSP and ask him/her to block this budget. For people in my Ward, that’s Gordon MacDonald MSP and he plans to back the cuts.

The draft Council budget overview is here.

The City of Edinburgh Council, and the“ethical manner” of Leonardo UK.

Formally known as Ferranti, Leonardo’s operation was established in Edinburgh in 1943 to manufacture Gyro Gunsights for the Spitfire,

The City of Edinburgh Council runs a scheme called the “Edinburgh Guarantee”. This scheme has matched over 3,400 young people with jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities with 550 employers since it started.

One of those companies is Leonardo. Formally known as Ferranti, Leonardo employs approximately 1,800 people in Edinburgh who specialise in “the provision of multi-role surveillance radars and countermeasure systems”. This includes radar for the Typhoon, Norway’s all-weather search and rescue helicopters, the US Coast Guard and for Saab’s Gripen Fighter aircraft.

Without any justification, it was alleged in Full Council yesterday that Leonardo had been  “condemned” (it was not said by who) for its role in the Yemen War and arms deals with Turkey. It was also suggested, again without any evidence, that Leonardo may not be providing the “right environment needed” to develop skills and “promote the  wellbeing” of its employees. The suggestion was that the Council should review Leonardo to ensure if behaved in an “ethical manner”, and consider preventing people working with them via the Edinburgh Guarantee. Indeed, in summing up his debate Councillor Alex Staniforth (Craigentinny / Duddingston Ward) used the word “evil” four times in one minute.

I accept that nations have a right to defend themselves, and that governments have a duty to stop weapons falling into the wrong hands, or being used in illegal wars. I was left wondering, however, what the aim of the discussion in Full Council was.

We know that the Scottish Government provides assistance to arms manufacturers (including those involved in the Yemen), but no concerns were raised about that. We know that Leonardo is a key part of the Edinburgh economy, but no concerns were raised about that. We know that the UK Government sets export controls and licensing for military and dual-use items (not the Council!), but no concerns were raised about that. Indeed, no link was made between Leonardo’s Edinburgh operation, the Edinburgh Guarantee and the awful conflict in the Yemen.

I would have backed the call if the review was to look at the wellbeing of staff in all the Edinburgh Guarantee employers, but that was blocked. Although I respect and understand the concerns people may have about companies like Leonardo, I fully expect they are a good employer who care about the wellbeing of their staff and how their products are used.

It was notable that many of those who backed the calls for Leonardo to be reviewed (including Councillor Alex Staniforth) are members of parties who backed Holyrood budgets which gave millions of pounds to arms manufacturers. Perhaps blocking that should come before limiting the career choices of young people? Or if the Council thinks Leonardo is not welcome in Edinburgh, perhaps it should just say so?

Briefing – Challenges in Recycling "Hard Plastics" in Edinburgh

Hard plastics are predominantly bulkier type items like storage boxes, kids toys, garden furniture, plant pots etc. Below is a briefing from the Council on the problems it faces recycling them.

Question (1) – Why has the Council stopped accepting “hard plastic” as a recycling stream?

Answer (1) – There are significant challenges with recycling hard plastics and the Council has been unable to find a reprocessing contractor willing to accept these materials. The hard plastic containers which had been located at Seafield and Bankhead Recycling Centres were removed over the course of December 2019 to January 2020. The hard-plastic container at Craigmillar Recycling Centre will be removed shortly. This issue is not unique to Edinburgh and other local authorities have made similar changes as a result of the difficulties in reprocessing hard plastics.

Question (2) – What implication does this have for plastic recycling for kerb side and communal bin collections?

Answer (2) – None. Whilst the council has in place various collection systems which directly collect materials for recycling or which otherwise divert materials, it is not always directly involved in selling to end use markets. Hard plastics are not collected as part of the kerbside or communal waste collection service. Until recently, hard plastics could only be recycled at the Household Waste Recycling Centres, where it would then go on to a reprocessor contractor who would clean and shred to sell as raw material. Hard plastics can still be put into general waste and will be converted into energy at our Millerhill Site.

Question (3) – What steps are being taken to increase the possibilities for plastic recycling for the Edinburgh public?

Answer (3) – Markets for plastics are ever changing. Council currently uses a contract which covers dry mixed materials and we encourage plastics recycling such as bottles or milk cartons. The Council will continue to monitor the demand for all plastics and will reintroduce containers in Household Waste Recycling Centres if there is demand for hard plastics and options for reprocessing become available. In addition:

  1. A Council officer will attend a meeting in February on an innovative scheme for recycling hard plastic materials, based in Perthshire. At present, there is no guarantee that this scheme will progress to market or that an outlet will be secured but progress will continue to be monitored;
  2. A procurement exercise is currently underway to secure a new supplier for dry mix recycling (i.e. plastics that are disposed of in green bins). The successful tenderer will be expected to maximise recycling all dry mixed recycling materials; and
  3. A campaign to improve the quality of the plastics which can be recycled (e.g. reducing the plastic materials which are deposited for recycling, but which are contaminated by food) is planned.

Briefing: Fire at Liberton Primary School

Below is a Council briefing on the devastating fire at Liberton Primary School.

LATEST NEWS: Fire at Liberton Primary School (not in my Ward)

Liberton Primary School will be closed for the rest of the week following a major fire at the school this afternoon (Wednesday 5 February).

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were called to the school on Gilmerton Road just after 3.30pm to reports of a fire in a first floor classroom and spread to the roof space.
The fire started after classes had finished for the day and any remaining staff and pupils who were on the site were evacuated safely with no reported injuries.

Parents have been informed that the school will be closed tomorrow and Friday with next week being the half term February break.

Further updates regarding contingency arrangements for the return of pupils on Monday 17 February will issued to parents next week.

Education Convener Cllr Ian Perry said: “The decision to close the school has not been taken lightly however unfortunately this has been a major fire which has caused significant damage to a large part of the school.

“There have been no reported injuries and I want to thank the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Council teams for their swift response. We’ll update parents next week regarding contingency arrangements.

“We will work closely with the fire service to determine the cause of the fire.”

Further updates regarding contingency arrangements will be posted on the Emergency School Closures page on our website and on social media.

Further updates regarding contingency arrangements will be posted on our Emergency School Closures page.

All of Edinburgh's 63 Councillors must do their best for our capital and the communities they represent within it.

All of Edinburgh’s Councillors were elected to stand up for our city, and should not be expected to stay quiet when the public want action.

If the Evening News pays Steve Cardownie for his column it perhaps should get a refund for this week’s error strewn edition focused on me.

First and foremost, Councillor Maureen Child is not the Labour Group Whip, that honour falls to Councillor Ricky Henderson and I can’t remember the last time an issue was raised against me.

Secondly, I am described as not being a team player has I hold “forthright views” about the SNP Government’s record in office. Cardownie would have a point if I were actually part of the Scottish Government, but I am not. Whilst he and his nationalist chums in Edinburgh are shy about holding the Scottish Government to account, I see it as my duty to stand up for Edinburgh on issues ranging from the crisis at the new Sick Kids Hospital to the under-funding of policing in our capital.

Thirdly, I am attacked by Cardownie for daring to raise concerns about Council Leader Adam McVey’s comments on a range of issues. It’s true that I have misgivings about his approach to dealing with the apparently out of control tourist economy and his failure to ensure Edinburgh is fairly funded. On these points, however, I am simply echoing the concerns of many Edinburgh residents. Nonetheless, I did defend him when thousands of Edinburgh citizens signed a petition demanding that he resigned over his alleged mismanagement of the Underbelly fiasco.

Lastly, Steve Cardownie makes the case for the 3 groups of pro-Independence Councillors working together (SNP, Greens and EPIC) as some sort of harmonious ideal. Is this really the best we can hope for as a city? Should Councillors being in favour of breaking up the UK really stop them from speaking out on Edinburgh’s homelessness crisis, the state of our roads, problems in social care, bins not being collected and Underbelly’s failings?

I’d suggest that it’s the job of all of Edinburgh’s 63 Councillors to do their best for our capital and the communities they represent within it. I know that’s what I am doing.

Briefing – Access to the Pentland Hills via the military access road just off Dreghorn Link

Below is a MoD briefing on access to the Pentland Hills via the military access road just off Dreghorn Link.

Thank you for your e-mail and request for an update on activity at the entrance to the MOD training area just off the City By-Pass.

By way of back ground there have been a number of major projects independently planned in the same area:

  • A new build on the south side of Dreghorn Barracks Apr 17-Mar 18
  • Scottish Water pipe line project cutting across the northern part of the MOD training area at Dreghorn parallel to the City by-Pass (affecting Swanston and Bonaly) Apr 18-Mar 20
  • Scottish Power replacing cables on the pylon lines traversing the northern part of the MOD training area at Dreghorn parallel to the City by-Pass (affecting Swanston and Bonaly) – starting Mar 20

All three projects required vehicle and equipment access to their respective sites via the slip road off the City By-Pass through the Dreghorn Training Area height restriction barrier. In order to manage the area safely, the traffic control measures through this one access point needed to be deconflicted with military users of the estate and members of the public accessing the area under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC). Therefore, for primarily safety reasons and duty of care I stopped public vehicle access under the barrier to the training area access road by lowering the barrier to 1m, keeping it to site traffic only. It has not affected pedestrian passage for those wishing to access the Pentland Hills.  

At one stage all three projects were going to happen concurrently. However Scottish Water deferred their start date until after the Dreghorn Barracks build and Scottish Power delayed until the start of this year. Scottish Water have finished their main project on MOD land but they still have some residual works involving tree felling and planting. I am hopeful this will be concluded soon but it will lead straight in to the Scottish Power project which will start shortly and is planned to go on until Aug/Sep 20. They too require access via the barrier, working on the pylon towers and positioning equipment near the entrance. We have just started the liaison and planning process this month and will know more once a programme of works is issued.

It is unfortunate that both Scottish Water/Power projects were delayed and ran on consecutively, stretching out the time and disruption to all concerned. Despite this, I am convinced the decision to restrict public vehicle access was correct as it was in the interests of public safety. As ever I will continue to consult with all stakeholders, namely the Forestry and Natural Heritage Service and Friends of the Pentlands, keeping them informed at all stages.