Consultation criticised

School bus in Selkirk.
School bus in Selkirk.

A parent council chairman has claimed consultation on the introduction of a four-and-a-half day school week in the Borders is too late.

Last week councillors agreed to consult with parents, staff and other stakeholders on the impact of making changes to school timetables, which it is believed could save money for secondary schools and allow more efficient use of staff.

A report will go back to the council in March for a decision to be made on the change, which would come into force in August.

Chris Mowat, who chairs Kelso High School parent council, told The Southern: “A report on the consultation will not make any difference to the way this is implemented if they want it done in time for August 2014.

“Headteachers will need to be planning the new timetables in the new year, if they are not already doing so.”

He added that it is not clear where savings will be made by introducing an asymmetric week, which will result in one half-day a week for pupils, although total class time will not change.

“Clearly the council are going to have to change finish times at schools, and that will surely have implications for both school contract buses and service buses,” Mr Mowat said.

“The key thing is that two years ago a move towards aligned timetables was shelved because it was going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in terms of transport changes.

“If that’s the case this time, where are the savings coming from?”

“If the savings are coming from decreasing the number of teachers in schools, then how does this fit in with the agreement to maintain teacher numbers?” Mr Mowat added.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Councillor Michelle Ballantyne said only consulting on the impact of the change made it seem as though a decision had already been taken on its introduction.

On the benefits of the asymmetric system, Glenn Rodger, director of education and lifelong learning, said: “Moving to an asymmetric week would not only provide a platform for a more efficient service, but will also enable better planning and preparation for school improvements.

“It would mean teachers would have the time to plan and implement curriculum changes, and all head teachers within the authority are in support of such a move.”

Councillor Catriona Bhatia said: “This arrangement would allow us to invest more time in our teachers.”

But she added: “If we take the political hit on this, and we will, then teachers have to deliver. We have to point out that this is about improving quality of teaching and learning.”