The County You Live, Work And Play
Political Row In Airdire
Alex Neil has called for learning and leisure convener Jim Logue to resign after North Lanarkshire Council lost out on £713,000 for failing to maintain its teacher numbers.
The Airdrie & Shotts MSP insists Councillor Logue is “not up to the job” and “responsible for short-changing the education system in North Lanarkshire”.
However, the Airdrie Central councillor hit back – calling the crucial one-day snapshot census of staff “bizarre and illogical”, noting recruitment issues and funding, and highlighting improved attainment while dismissing Mr Neil’s call as “political posturing”.
It follows confirmation that the authority will be one of 10 across Scotland not to benefit from their proportion of £10 million of national funding, made available on the condition that 2015 teacher numbers were maintained at the same level as the previous year.
North Lanarkshire had 3465 full-time equivalent teachers on the nominated “census day” last September – 58 fewer than its 2014 figure, which itself had to be revised after submission when it was subsequently found to be incorrect.
Mr Neil said: “The council found they hadn’t counted the correct number of teachers in the previous year and got it totally wrong, so they didn’t know how many they were employing when they signed up to the contract with the Scottish Government – and then missed the target by 58.
“During the same period, they let 163 teachers go on early retirement. They can’t say it’s difficult to recruit and on the other hand give early retirement.
“You need somebody in charge of education who can come to a quick recognition that the figures are wrong and make sure children get the education they deserve.
“North Lanarkshire is well short of the number of teachers it should have had in its classrooms. Ratios and the quality of teaching are key factors in attainment.
“Ultimately, the buck stops with Jim Logue and this farce shows he’s not up to the job. He should do the honourable thing and resign; and if he won’t, council leader Jim McCabe should sack him. It’s ridiculous that the learning and leisure director has been suspended but the committee convener remains in his post.”
Learning and leisure executive director Andrew Sutherland was suspended in November, pending an internal investigation on “the maintenance and accuracy of data on numbers of teaching staff”.
Asked about the issue of removing funds from a council already facing £68m of cuts over the next two years, Mr Neil said: “If you’re paid to deliver teaching, it should be delivered; this is because of North Lanarkshire’s own incompetence.”
Councillor Logue criticised the method of measuring teacher numbers on the basis of a single day’s attendance, and insisted that the council has a variety of approaches to improving pupil attainment.
He said: “It’s a very crude measurement tool, a count of teachers present in schools on one particular day – so someone who’s out of school because of illness, bereavement or professional development can’t count.
“It’s absolute madness; every education convener thinks it’s simplistic and illogical, and it doesn’t drive up attainment; it’s a cul-de-sac approach of looking at it.
“Alex Neil is oblivious to the fact that there’s a national shortage of qualified teachers – authorities across Scotland are experiencing this. We also asked in August for grant funding to employ 220 probationer teachers, but the Scottish Government only provided funding for 171 placements.
“I’m very confident that our attainment figures for the past four years are better than ever before. The latest early years report is above all targets, which the Scottish Government have commented on; and we have every strategy in place to drive up attainment.
“This will have to come out of the education budget; to take that off 10 authorities at a time when the government says they’re investing more money in education seems crazy.”
Councillor Logue noted that the early retiree posts were replaced, and disputed a claim by Mr Neil that North Lanarkshire’s 163 figure nearly matched that of every other council in Scotland combined.
He said: “I don’t recognise that figure and I’d like to see evidence if he’s going to throw that argument around.”
Councillor Logue called the former health secretary’s call for his resignation “rich and ironic”, saying: “He didn’t hit his targets and didn’t resign; I won’t take lessons from Alex Neil, and it’s absolute nonsense to think that it would make any difference to attainment.”