Jobs fears as schools set to close early

PLANS for a radical shake-up of secondary school timetables in the Borders are not “a done deal”, according to George Turnbull, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for education.

Under the proposals, pupils at the region’s nine high schools will start lessons at 8.50am and not break for lunch until 1.15pm. And on two days a week – Wednesdays and Fridays – they will finish as early as 2.50pm.

The changes, following a pilot project at Berwickshire High, have raised concerns over revised transport arrangements, with one mum claiming: “This could be devastating for working parents.”

But Councillor Turnbull insisted: “No decision has yet been taken and I can assure parents we will listen to all their views.”

By today, all parents and carers of the region’s 6,000 secondary students should have received letters from individual heads explaining the detailed proposals to implement, across the board, a 33-period week to replace the current 30-period model.

According to Mr Turnbull, the letters went out to Hawick High parents nearly a fortnight ago. In Earlston, they were distributed via pupils on Friday, while parents of the region’s largest secondary – 1,170-pupil Peebles High – received them this week.

In each case the letters state “it would be helpful” if parents made their views known by October 31 because a decision, on implementation in the 2012/13 session, would be made by SBC in December.

But given that the schools break up tomorrow for a week’s mid-term holiday, that apparent deadline has been criticised as unrealistic.

“This is far too short a period for an important consultation which suggests this vital issue is being pushed through with undue haste,” said one Earlston parent, who did not wish to be named.

“Most pupils at Earlston travel by car or bus and this will be a nightmare for parents who already find it hard to leave work to pick up their children at 4pm. People could lose their jobs over this and not all employers will be sympathetic.”

This prompted SBC’e education department to issue a clarifying statement yesterday.

“All secondary schools in the Borders have been asked to communiciate the proposals for a 33-period week to parents,” said a spokesperson. “If parents have not already done so, they should be receiving a letter explaining the proposals and why we are considering these changes.

“The purpose of the letter is to provide parents with an opportunity to submit their initial views on the proposals.

“We have stated in the letter it would be helpful if parents could come back to us by October 31, but this is not a final deadline; it is a guide which will provide us with valuable preliminary information prior to moving forward with the consultation process.

“We are very keen to make sure all parents have the opportunity to give us their views on the proposals, so we are urging parents to make their views known either before or after that date.

“Further consultation will continue and over the coming weeks parent councils will be discussing the proposals in detail.”

However, one parent council, at Peebles High, recorded at its last meeting: “There may be a consultation, but it was felt the change may be a fait accompli and any consultation not genuine.”

Not so, said Mr Turnbull, who earlier this year set up a working group, with input from all nine secondary heads, to look at a so-called assymetric working week.

“This is definitely not a done deal, but if the council decides to go ahead, a decision must be made in December to allow schools to bring in the new timetables for next summer and, crucially, for parents to organise child care.”

It now appears an early option of facilitating the 33-period week by allowing schools to close on Friday lunchtime has been ditched in favour of the current proposal.

The ethos behind the move remains the same: to use staff resources more efficiently while retaining the total time for teaching at 27.5 hours a week and, with timetables aligned, to offer pupils more courses through video conferencing.

Anyone wishing to comment on the proposals should email: kgray1scotborders.gov.uk or call 01835 825108.