A teaching union has slammed a proposed new school timetable structure, insisting the plans will see teachers being taken out of the classroom to pay for increased transport costs estimated to stand at almost £140,000.
Local Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) representative Matthew Moss has spoken out against “asymmetric” timetables, a report on which went before members of the SIC children and families committee.
The aim is to see Shetland’s secondary schools make up their working weeks with 33 50-minute periods from 29th May.
The new structure is already under way in Aith Junior High School and Whalsay School.
Under the plans – due to go before the policy and resources committee and the full council – schools will face a slightly longer day from Mondays to Thursdays, and a shorter day on Fridays.
Hayfield staff and elected representatives have pointed to benefits they see behind the move, with teachers making better use of their time in school and pupils benefiting from the 50-minute periods.
The shorter Fridays are also seen as beneficial for youngsters in the Anderson High School Halls of Residence, who would appreciate getting home earlier during the winter months when the weather is bad.
But the estimated cost associated with the new timetable system is believed to stand at £139,126. Some operators say they require more, or bigger, buses – especially where service buses tie in with inter-island ferry times.
A report by quality improvement officer Robin Calder stated that children’s services would reduce its secondary teaching full-time equivalent cohort to meet the transport costs.
He insisted that would only take place through “natural wastage”, but the plans have nonetheless angered EIS representatives.
Mr Moss said: “We’re not opposed, in principle, to the asymmetric, or the common, timetable. But we are concerned about a lack of detail, and we’re concerned also about the financial implications in the report as well.
“We find it unacceptable that one-off and recurring costs for transport should be met by a reduction in teaching numbers.
“We’ve had a number of years of teaching numbers reductions in Shetland, particularly in the secondary sector. We’ve seen an increase now in primary because of pupil numbers, but in secondary we are still a lot of teachers down from where we were.
“So to see these costs being met by further reductions is extremely worrying.
“For children’s services to be proposing something which takes teachers out of the classroom to cover transport costs is always going to be a concern to us.”
However, following today’s meeting Mr Calder said teaching unions had been consulted during the process.
“There is currently unused class contact time that this timetable structure will tackle,” he said.
“Any reduction through teaching would be done through natural wastage – would be done when people retired or moved on from the local authority. We’d be looking at the requirements for each individual post.
“I think it would be worth pointing out that teaching unions have been involved in the asymmetric working week and the curriculum structure.
“We’ve had a focus group which consisted of school managers, teaching unions, officers, parents – they have been very much part of the development of these plans.”
Director of children’s services Helen Budge insisted the aim was to make the service “more efficient”.
She added that two schools were already running the programme successfully.