The reason for Cllr Poole’s intervention is that the recent story about the shortage of maths teachers at a school in John Swinney’s backyard presented an irresistible opportunity to bash the SNP. Of course the Holyrood government is too blame for continuing problems in teacher recruitment – it’s in charge of teacher training and the profession has become less attractive under its watch.
However, Fife Council, its ruling Labour administration and Cllr Poole as the portfolio-holder for education, also bear some responsibility for difficulties in Fife schools. In particular, how on earth can they justify removing £3 million from Fife’s education budget and 70 front-line teaching posts? There will be even more shuffling round of teachers, conflation of classes, loss of opportunities and all-round stress for staff and pupils as they are forced to manage these cuts.
Fife Council will, of course, argue that central government had reduced its grant and education was “easier” to cut than other areas of council spending. This might well be true, especially since Fife has been awarded £9.8 million from the Pupil Equity Fund under John Swinney’s quest to close the attainment gap. This money is supposed to be ringfenced, but Labour administrations, such as the one in North Lanarkshire, have already been caught out advising headteachers to use the PEF money to make good cuts it is imposing on breakfast clubs and classroom assistants.
The £3 million cut to the Fife education budget is all the more shameful since it was entirely unnecessary. At the eleventh hour Fife Council received an £8.9 million uplift to its central government grant so had the wherewithal to cancel this cut and still balance its budget.
Cllr Poole makes much of his status as an Independent on Fife Council, harrying candidates on facebook for belonging to political parties and bringing national issues into local politics. Yet his record reveals him as one of Labour’s staunchest supporters in Fife, and as an apologist for Fife Council’s Education Department.