A shake-up of funding for Scotland’s poorest children could cut more than 100 education jobs, including teachers, in Dundee and strip millions of pounds from the city, an MSP warns.
Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra said pupils in Dundee will lose out following a change that will see a cash pot previously shared among the country’s nine most deprived council areas stretched across all 32 local authorities.
We can reveal SNP Dundee City Council leader John Alexander was the only council chief in Scotland to stand against the change when it was discussed among other local authorities – a move that put him at odds with his own party bosses.
The funding scheme, which aims to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap in schools, provides funding of £43 million.
In previous years, this has seen around £6.3 million of extra cash made available to help the poorest pupils in Dundee achieve their goals.
Youngsters in Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire also benefitted as part of the small number of “challenge authorities”.
However, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told MSPs on Tuesday the money will in future be broken up by all 32 of the country’s councils, with allocation depending on the number of low income families who live there.
City faces ‘multi-million pounds of cuts’
Labour MSP Michael Marra, who is also a Dundee councillor, said he has been told this will leave “in excess of 100 front-line education posts at risk which are directly linked to the funding”.
I, in fact, was the only council leader not to vote in favour of the changes and to defend Dundee’s position.”
– Dundee council leader John Alexander
A full breakdown of the allocation to each local authority has not yet been made available but Mr Marra said Dundee “faces multi-million pounds of cuts”.
He said: “That the SNP are choosing this moment to make callous cuts to the poorest children’s education is grotesque and intolerable. It almost defies belief.
“These children have suffered most in the pandemic.”
He added: “They have lost the most time in classroom, had less education online and have seen the SNP embed inequality within the system. They have seen their life chances deliberately weakened – and so it is the case again today.
“Far from rhetoric on recovery, they are abandoning any pretence they care about the poorest pupils in the poorest areas.”
Labour MSP told to ‘collar his own party’
However, Mr Marra was accused by council leader John Alexander of trying “to pull the wool over the public’s eyes” by targeting his criticism at the SNP when he should “collar his own party before criticising mine”.
Mr Alexander said the changes were discussed by all 32 council leaders, and that Mr Marra’s Labour colleagues “supported that change”.
“I, in fact, was the only council leader not to vote in favour of the changes and to defend Dundee’s position,” Mr Alexander said. “I would have appreciated his support at that time, rather than after the horses have bolted.”
The council leader said that although he would have rather not had a reduction in Dundee’s share of the cash, he supported the objective of targeting it at pupils experiencing poverty across the whole of Scotland.
He said this will “inevitably result in a reduction for the nine (council areas) but a benefit to pupils living in poverty across the other areas”.
“As of yet, we don’t know what that will look like or what the exact impact will be, particularly as head teachers decide on how the vast majority is spent and not politicians,” Mr Alexander said.
“Councillor Marra seems to be second guessing those considerations. Clearly we would want to see as much money coming to Dundee as is possible.
“I support the objective but would have rather not seen a reduction in Dundee’s allocation, that goes without saying.”
A defining mission
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described improving education and closing the attainment gap as her “defining mission” in politics.
Almost £1 billion has been spent on the issue since 2015 but a report from Audit Scotland earlier this year found inequalities remain “wide” and have worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A further £200m will be spent on closing the attainment gap next year and the investment over the five year parliamentary term will be around £1 billion, up from £750 million in the previous parliament.