Baker calls for urgent meeting as school cuts hit Fife

I have written to Fife Council to call for an urgent meeting to discuss the cuts to many high school budgets in Fife.

According to reports, secondary schools in Fife are facing a reduction of £1.3m in the next financial year. This includes Bell Baxter (£272,688), Balwearie High (£265,167) and Levenmouth Academy (£85,164).

Local parents have raised concerns that the proposed changes could result in restricting the curriculum and guidance teachers. Teaching union EIS have written to all Fife councillors calling for them to reject any proposals that would see staffing levels reduced.

I have serious concerns about the scale and pace of the changes that some secondary schools are having to manage. Schools are already facing a challenging time and these proposals could undermine pupils’ futures.

Questions have to be asked as to why schools who are facing challenging inspection reports, or situated in places of high deprivation, are facing cuts, though others are seeing increases. Even with an element of redistribution, £1.288m is still being removed from the budget. That is why I have written to Fife Council and I am calling for an urgent meeting and full explanation of this decision.

They need to demonstrate full transparency when it comes to these changes and be prepared to justify why so many schools in Fife are being hit with such a significant reduction to their yearly budget.

Fife Gingerbread AGM

This week I went along along to Fife Gingerbread AGM. It was a moving and inspiring event. We heard from families who have worked with Fife Gingerbread and their experiences of supporting their children, building their own confidence and getting on in life.

It was great to see the way Fife Gingerbread are imaginatively using creative writing and art with families. It was clear to see how much everyone had benefited from expressing their creative side.

It was also great to hear about the progress of the Teen Fife Teen Parent Project and the awards they have been winning. It was a real pleasure to present the AGM awards this year and help recognise the women’s achievements. Looking forward to next year!

Fife Library Consultation

Fife Council is currently consulting on the future of library services in the Kingdom. In the face of a £77 million budget gap over the next three years the current proposal will see a change in current library structure.

The structure proposed would establish three models of library services: libraries open for up to 20 hours a week, libraries open 20 – 40 hours a week and libraries open 40 hours or more a week. Unfortunately under this structure 16 libraries are earmarked for closure.

Nobody wants to see libraries close and following a recent coffee morning and constituent survey in Kinghorn, I fully understand the strength of feeling within the community for keeping their local library open.

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Scottish Government’s Legislative Programme

Yesterday the First Minister launched her Government’s programme for 2015-16. This will be the legislation that the Scottish Government will bring forward ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

With the Scottish election on the horizon, we have a shorter parliamentary year than normal so it is important that we use the time that we have to make progress in a number of key areas.

I was delighted to be able to speak during the debate. I want to see the transfer of power to local communities, empowering them to deliver the change that they need. It won’t be easy for a number of factors but the rewards will be huge if we see people engaging more in their communities, making decisions every day rather than just at the ballot box. Continue reading

Post study work visa steering group

I am pleased to announce that I will be taking part in a cross party steering group established by the Scottish Government to work towards the reintroduction of the Post Study Work Visa in Scotland. The group will include members of all the major Scottish parties such as the Minister for Europe and International Development Humza Yousaf, and John Finnie MSP as well as representatives from the business and college and university sector.

The post study work visa was first introduced by the then First Minister Jack McConnell and his Labour led executive. Then it was part of the Fresh Talent scheme and its success in Scotland led to it being rolled out across the UK by the then Labour Government. Unfortunately it was then cancelled by the coalition during the last Westminster term.

The previous post study work visa allowed international students to remain and work in Scotland for 2 years following graduation from university, with the aim is to attract and retain world-class talent in Scotland. Continue reading

Shocking cuts to Fife College numbers

Statistics released to me by Fife College has shown the full brunt of the Scottish Government’s cuts to college budgets. The statistics show that Fife College will have to cut thousands of student numbers for the upcoming academic year as 3,638 part time student numbers will be axed.

The sheer scale of cuts to student numbers at Fife College is shocking and it is clearly unsustainable in the long run.

We are seeing part-time students, often carers, parents and mature students, facing the brunt of these cuts and this will only end up locking many people in Fife out of further education.   Continue reading

Claire raises adult programme concerns

Before recess I raised concerns in Parliament over the decision by Fife College to drop their Adult Programme courses, due to be replaced by Community Skills courses after the summer. The decision from Fife College has raised concerns that students with additional support needs will be unable to make the transition from the old course to the new one and will ultimately miss out.

I raised these concerns after being contacted by constituents who fear that the changes introduced by Fife College will result in their family missing out on the college opportunities that the Adult Programme course brings. The cancellation of these non-certificated courses is due to a combination of severe budget pressures and a focus on employability.

I was able to quiz the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning during Education questions and I raised my fears that the change in course would lead to some being “excluded from college opportunities, and the social and educational benefit this brings them.” Continue reading

Kirkcaldy West Primary visit Claire’s office

Today I was delighted to invite a group of Primary 7 pupils from Kirkcaldy West Primary to my office in Carlyle House. The pupils were able to see how my office works and I was able to answer their questions on being a MSP and on Scottish Politics in general. 

The class are currently studying a new topic based on the Scottish Parliament and it was great to see the class engaged in politics and able to ask good questions on the subject.

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Labour MSPs call for clarity over future of colleges

I joined with my college  Jayne Baxter in asking for clarity from the Scottish Government on the future of colleges within the Kingdom as we called for a delay on the SNP’s Post-16 education bill.

The bill, which seeks to address issues of college and university governance, widening access, data sharing and a tuition fees cap, has come under criticism from witnesses during committee evidence sessions. Labour, along with other opposition parties, are asking the Cabinet Secretary for Education to withdraw the bill and address the concerns raised.

There is growing criticism that the bill is not fit for purpose. Particular concerns have been raised over the college regionalisation aspect of the bill which is seeing Carnegie College and Adam Smith College merge.

The merger of Adam Smith and Carnegie Colleges has been driven by cuts to the sector from the SNP Government rather than by what is best for staff and students in the Kingdom. Throughout this whole process we have had very little reassurances over future course availability and student numbers.

Today Jayne Baxter MSP and I have written to Tony Jakimciw, the regional lead for Fife college mergers, to ask for a meeting to raise our concerns over the future of Fife colleges.

The criticism of the education bill comes on the back of motion of no confidence passed on Education Secretary Mike Russell by EIS earlier this month.