As schools headed towards the February break last week, MSPs were debating the final stage of the Scottish Government’s budget for the year ahead. There is an important connection between the decision taken in Parliament and our schools, because the budget determines how much funding they will receive for 2022/23.
We have been arguing that an education recovery must be targeted to those most in need of support. That is why at the start of the budget process, Scottish Labour set out three key asks designed to ensure schools are safe, open, and focused on recovery.
The first was a £110 million plan to tackle Scotland’s stubborn attainment gap, likely worsened by the pandemic, by providing tutors for pupils in the most deprived areas.
The second was a £30 million budget to fit proper ventilation systems in every classroom to help keep schools open.
The third ask was for an independent review into the impact of Covid on education, to understand the full extent of the challenges to delivering an education recovery.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of opposition MSPs, the SNP/Green Scottish Government passed a budget which cuts £251 million from the funds given to councils. This follows cumulative cuts of £937.5 million to councils’ non-ringfenced funding since 2013/14.
While I know my Labour colleagues at East Lothian Council will do their utmost to absorb these latest cuts and protect education spending, this will inevitably mean that other budgets suffer as a result.
Our children need to be given the best opportunity to catch up, in classrooms that are fit to learn and in schools with the support they need. That should have meant a comprehensive plan for ensuring classrooms are fit for purpose rather than laughable proposals for sawing off the bottom of classroom doors.
Sadly, the SNP’s record on education has long been defined by failure, and their pitiful response to the pandemic will only make things worse.