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SIC officials raise education issues with government chief

SIC top brass with John Swinney (front centre). Back row (L-R): Councillors Ryan Thomson, Allison Duncan, Alastair Cooper, Emma Macdonald and Theo Smith with chief executive Maggie Sandison. Front row (L-R): Convener Malcolm Bell, Swinney and councillor George Smith. Photo: SIC

DIFFICULTIES in recruiting and retaining teaching staff and funding for schools was discussed when council officials met with Scottish education secretary and deputy first minister John Swinney earlier this week.

Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) education and families committee chairman George Smith said it was a “positive exchange” with Swinney, who was in Lerwick on Monday to officially open the new Anderson High School.

Leading councillors and SIC officials met with the SNP MSP to raise concerns over various education issues prior to Monday afternoon’s ceremony.

Smith and his colleagues warned against a “one size fits all” approach to education across Scotland, while they argued that the Pupil Equity Fund model – which aims raise attainment for schoolchildren experiencing poverty by giving councils extra funding based on the numbers of pupils between P1 and S3 receiving free school meals – does not accurately reflect rural deprivation.

Speaking to the local media on Monday, Swinney defended the way the government decided on how to distribute that funding – but he admitted he is open to change.

“Free school meals works as an identifier of poverty better for rural communities than the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, which is the other index that the government could have used,” Swinney said.

“I really put it to the local authority and to parliament that I’m very open to developing other mechanisms that could help to extend distribution of these resources, but we’ve been unable to develop a mechanism that would enable that to be the case, based on the data sources that are available.

“But I’m very open to that question because I want to make sure that resources are available wherever there is an instance of poverty, so that we can help schools to support young people to overcome those challenges.”

Smith suggested that fuel poverty could perhaps be considered by the government as another indicator.

“We do need to look at something that takes account of the rural situation more than say the mainland populated areas,” he said.

Other topics on the table covered areas such as recruitment, teachers pay and the practicalities of the government’s roll-out of additional free hours of early learning and childcare.

“In particular we spoke about the difficulties we have in recruiting to and retaining teaching staff whether that be because of our location, the workload, the pay or for example the ask in being a teaching head teacher,” Smith said.

“I stressed to Mr Swinney that in his desire to empower head teachers and schools he did not in reality burden these staff with even more responsibilities. We want our head teachers and teachers to be able to concentrate on leading high quality teaching and learning.”