On Monday evening at the City Council's Education Committee we considered the Education Department's Service Plan, the plan is found at page 4 of the pdf document. There was a very interesting exchange of views on this important and ambitious document. My colleague Laurie Bidwell worried that the resources might not be there to deliver on these ambitious plans. We then saw the benefit of having teacher representatives on the Education Committee when Arthur Forrest spoke.
Mr Forrest spoke about the 'extreme problems' in Dundee's schools trying to get supply teachers. He pointed out that often support for learning teachers who are employed to assist children who need extra help can often be tasked with covering for other classes, this means that the young people who require extra help and support go without appropriate support. Mr Forrest also described how school management teams are often 'fire-fighting' rather than implementing changes. He told the committee that 'It's vital that we are aware of the pressure on schools.' This warning from the 'chalk-face' is very important to all of us who have the best interests of education in the city at heart.
The Director of Education accepted that there were problems in terms of staffing and highlighted that there were 56 teachers currently on maternity leave. I am sure that he was not suggesting that this was a problem. The provision of maternity leave was a major step forward in terms of wokers' rights and is something that I would defend. I think that behind the statistics is the fact that perhaps not all of the jobs which have been declared to be redundant in the recent rounds of early retirement and voluntary redundancies were actually redundant. It is important that the Education Department keeps a close eye on this and ensures that every school in Dundee has the resources it requires to deliver the service we expect. There is no point in asking teachers to deliver an ambitious development plan if they are being asked to do so with one hand, metaphorically, tied behind their back.
I was also interested to hear that the Education Department has a special meeting to look at budget setting which is described as the 'Star Chamber.' I was impressed that the SNP Administration in the city were happy to allow the use of this term first used by King Edward II of England. Historians will be aware that this is the Edward who was sent 'homewards tae think again.' I do wonder how many other ad hoc committees are taking place across the council and wonder if this being done in an orgainised manner.