‘Wake-up’ call for Edinburgh as pupil spending is hit hard

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
Low satisfaction: Dissatisfaction with education in Edinburgh has been blamed not on teaching quality or standards, but on ‘the fabric and the facilities’ (Image: Adobe Stock)

Scotland’s capital spends £6,252 per secondary pupil against a Scottish average of £6,806 – and satisfaction levels are also low

Edinburgh spent less on primary and secondary pupils in 2016/17 than all but one local authority in Scotland, according to figures that opposition councillors have called a “wake-up call”.

The capital also scored the lowest satisfaction level with schools out of all 32 councils.

Secondary pupils in the city had £6,252 spent on them per-year, against an average £6,806. For primary schools it was £4,105 compared with an average of £4,788. For both sectors, East Lothian was the only authority to spend less.

Satisfaction with the city’s schools reached 62.7 per cent, next to an average of 75.3 per cent for Scotland, according to the Local Government Benchmarking Framework.

However, the survey may have been carried out around the time in early 2016 when urgent structural repairs forced the closure of 17 Edinburgh schools that were built or refurbished under a public private partnership agreement.

Tory education spokesman Callum Laidlaw said the findings were “extremely disappointing”.

“Our teachers are doing an excellent job. A lot of the dissatisfaction I come across is not to do with teaching quality or standards, but about the fabric and the facilities. If you look at schools like Trinity or Liberton, it’s obvious.

“The council should be doing more, but the Scottish government needs to recognise we have significant pressures on the fabric of our schools and make sure the funding Edinburgh gets takes that into account.”

Green education spokeswoman Mary Campbell added: “This is a real wake-up call for the council on how our schools are doing and how that is viewed by the city.

“And it is a wake-up call for Scottish government in how it can better fund the capital and back the fantastic work that our school staff and families are doing.

From well-documented problems with some school buildings to basic shortages in materials, support staff and teachers, the stark reality is that Edinburgh needs to invest more in education.”

The council highlighted how the satisfaction figures came from a survey of adults in general rather than parents of children at school. However, this would also be the case for all the other local authorities.

Council leader Adam McVey said: “It’s worth noting 83 per cent said they were satisfied with our local schools in our most recent survey of parents.

“We would also expect that our planned programme of investment in our school estate, including the additional £20 million invested in our schools this summer, will improve satisfaction and performance in future years.

“Our central focus is on improving the opportunities for young people across the city and this year’s exam results in council-run schools demonstrate the strong performance of students, particularly in S5 and S6, with the pass rate in Highers up three per cent from last year.”

On spending, the council argued fuller schools meant lower costs per-pupil. Education convener Ian Perry said: “Our school rolls are rising, with many schools operating at capacity, which means we can achieve maximum efficiency and a lower cost per-pupil.”

The lack of rural locations within the authority also contributed to lower spending, he said.

However, Alison Murphy, Edinburgh secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), dismissed the explanations.

“Even if Edinburgh was saving money per-pupil compared with, say the Highlands & Islands – because of less spent on travel and fuller classes – you would hope this money would be ploughed back into education.

“The truth is that Edinburgh has had massive cuts to resources in the last few years, particularly to learning support staff. The presumption of mainstreaming ought to come with a presumption of proper pupil support but that has not been the case at all.”

On top of this, teachers have had to deal with rapid restructuring into a faculties set-up and countless curricular changes from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Ms Murphy said.

“Of course, many of these problems have affected the whole of Scotland but different councils have responded in different ways.”

A crisis in supply staff numbers has added to pressures and various training has had to take place on Saturdays: “We are absolutely at the maximum contact time in classrooms,” she added.

Also, many Edinburgh school buildings that were temporarily closed in 2016 still present design issues: “We have been told no safety issues remain but more money will clearly need to be spent on rectifying problems,” Ms Murphy said.

Asked whether the council was listening, she replied: “There’s an acknowledgement from a lot of people (there) of how hard things are but it’s hard to get an answer of what can be done.

“The only proper solution is sustained investment in both teachers and infrastructure.”

The EIS is calling for an Edinburgh tourist tax of £1 or £2 per night on hotel rooms, which would go directly into education budgets, bringing in about £15 million a year. That would be not nearly enough to compensate for shortfalls but “a significant help”, Ms Murphy said.


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