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Highland Council will need more cash to reopen schools in August

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council says it needs more money ahead of the return of schools.
Highland Council says it needs more money ahead of the return of schools.

Highland Council needs more money if it is to get children back into school this August in line with government wishes, leading councillors say.

The Scottish Government wants pupils back in school at least 50 per cent of the time from August 11, but a lack of funding is hampering efforts to make that happen according to the chairman of the council's education committee.

As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined further moves for the easing of lockdown today she faced questions about how the economy could be expected to get moving again if children did not get back to school full-time quickly, allowing their parents to return to work.

Councillor John Finlayson said: “Crucial for me is the need to get additional resources from the Scottish Government to support the plans that authorities and schools draw up.

“We are now expected to aim for at least a 50 per cent face-to-face education and this costs money in terms of possibly needing to acquire additional building space and also employing more staff."

The council's interim executive chief officer for education, Paul Senior, described the 50 per cent requirement as "a stretch."

He said: “Some of the key considerations are: 203 schools; 50,000 young children aged 0-19; 2400 full time equivalent teaching staff; and 950 full time equivalent support staff.

“That kind of gives you a feel for the scale of the ask here in terms of mobilising all of those schools and settings and getting them up and running in a safe and secure way.

“That involves catering solutions – making sure that our children and young people are getting access to meals and nutrition; transport – making sure our children are getting to school; facilities making the environment ready and secure; and resource implication – that is a big stretch for us.”

Cllr Alasdair Christie, who leads the council's recovery board looking at how to get the region back on track as coronavirus restrictions are eased, said: “If the Scottish Government doesn’t provide additional funding then we would probably have to have an emergency budget to discuss education.

"We’d probably need to have an emergency council meeting.

“It would be damaging for teachers, damaging for parents, damaging for pupils, and damaging for the economy.

"So we have to hope that common sense prevails and the correct and necessary resources are given to education.”

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