A war of words has broken out in Aberdeenshire Council over the role of visiting specialist teachers to schools in the area.
On Monday, the council's Partnership Opposition called for ‘urgent clarity’ from the new Tory-led Alliance administration, after claims the role of visiting specialist teachers was under threat.
The ‘visiting specialists’- teachers who are responsible for visiting a number of schools each week to deliver subjects such as music, art and languages – have received letters from the authority explaining that they will no longer be able to carry out this role, and that they will instead be expected over the coming months to integrate into ‘core school staffing’.
Opposition councillors said the move places a huge question mark over the ability of Aberdeenshire’s schools – in particular rural schools - to deliver a diverse curriculum.
It comes hard on the heels of a pledge by the incoming Tory/Lib Dem administration to review Aberdeenshire’s rural schools provision.
Opposition Education spokesperson Cllr Alison Evison said: "This is extremely concerning news which needs some urgent clarity for parents. During our Administration, as well as prioritising raising educational attainment, we focused on supporting the development of music and arts education in Aberdeenshire Schools.”
“It’s hard to understand why this is necessary, since the previous administration was investing significant sums to increase the recruitment and training of teachers in Aberdeenshire."
Opposition Leader Cllr Richard Thomson added: “It’s outrageous that the Tories and Lib Dems could have gone through an entire election campaign without once mentioning their plans to cut visiting specialists in our schools.
"While we must have the right numbers of core staff in our schools, it is also essential that children are given a range of opportunities, including in music and art.
“This news will be extremely concerning to parents – particularly those of children at Aberdeenshire’s rural schools – which already appear to be in the new administration’s sights and which after these changes, may not have the capacity even in their core staff to deliver on these aspects of the curriculum.
“While in opposition, the Tory led Administration sought to slash education spending by a further £3m with significant reductions to music tuition in particular. The changes are not acceptable as a budget saving exercise and they will not be acceptable if they diminish music, arts or language teaching for Aberdeenshire’s pupils in any way.”
However, the council Administration group has reacted with 'frank astonishment' at the claims of the Partnership Opposition.
Council Leader, Cllr Jim Gifford, said: “This is another pre-election scare story by the SNP. They have tried to scare parents with their completely unfounded stories about school closures – which aren’t happening. Now they are trying to scare parents and staff with another untrue story.
"The council press release makes it crystal clear what is actually happening which is that the proposed changes will give more flexibility to our Head Teachers and deliver better education for our pupils.”
He added: “It is quite incredible that our only Labour Councillor is siding with the SNP on this one. These changes have been under discussion for years – and for most of the last two years she was in charge of the education service!”
Chair of the Education and Children’s Service Committee Cllr Gillian Owen added: “I think we are all getting pretty tired of these unfounded and inaccurate attacks by the SNP. Let me be really clear on this - there are no cuts to our teaching staff and it would be good if Cllr Thomson stopped causing unnecessary concern to parents across Aberdeenshire by spreading these complete fabrications.”
In a statement from Aberdeenshire Council, it said: "Over the past four years, Education and Children’s Services have been changing the way teachers are deployed in schools to ensure young people have the best possible learning experience.
"As part of this process the role of the visiting specialist has been reviewed and is evolving. All primary schools offer a broad range of curricular experience delivered by teaching staff and the model is being implemented across schools, to review their needs and develop local schedules to ensure the breadth of the curriculum is covered.
"The letter to visiting specialists is to invite them to attend a briefing session to discuss both individual and service options. There is no threat to any individual teacher."