SBC promises more consultation to calm parents’ timetable fears

PARENTS will be consulted on plans to radically alter all secondary school timetables, says Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for education.

Councillor George Turnbull admitted that the local authority had considered bringing in the new aligned timetable, which would see a move to a 33 period week and all schools closing early on a Friday, for the start of the 2011-12 session.

It had led some parents to complain that they had not been consulted, with one telling us: “Parents are finding out about the changes in the school day from their children, if at all.”

But a working group will now look to bring in the new format in 2012-13, which Mr Turnbull says dispels those fears.

He explained: “There will be plenty of consultation – by statute we have to get the views of parents.

“Every local member (councillor) is invited to parent council meetings in their ward and we have four meetings a year where we invite representatives from parent councils to raise concerns.”

It is understood that additional public transport costs for pupils could be incurred by alignment of the Borders schools timetables.

And Mr Turnbull admits the cash-strapped council would not be in a position to splash money on the project.

He said: “It had been talked about it [the new timetable] being brought in quicker but there were too many logistics to overcome.

“There are issues such as transport which needs to be discussed. Some parents need to be able to organise child care, especially for the primary schools.

“Obviously in the current financial climate the council are in, if it were to prove more costly it would go against the grain.”

Among the possible benefits of an aligned Borders timetable, according to the Hawick and Hermitage councillor, is that teachers could take classes in two different schools at the same time.

He told us: “If, for example, every school had maths at 9am on a Wednesday, it could be that video conference technology would allow a teacher in Eyemouth to also teach a class in Galashiels, if their teacher was off.

“Also, a teacher in Galashiels, for instance, could take a Higher subject with fewer senior pupils in both their school and at Peebles.”

The move to an early finish on Friday’s replicates the model used in Edinburgh’s schools, which Mr Turnbull believes works well.

Replying to criticism of the new plans, he said: “I think it is the fear of the unknown – people do not want anything tinkered with, but six months after it is brought I am sure people will say ‘We should have done this years ago’.”

Former education chief and parent of a Peebles High pupil, councillor Catriona Bhatia, called for greater public involvement ahead of any changes.

She said: “I welcome more time for consultation with parents on this matter.

“Not involving parents in the process would go against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Parent Involvement Act and would likely be counter productive at a time when we should all be working together to get the most efficient and effective education service in the Borders.”

An SBC spokesperson said a few schools are “keen” to implement the change to a 33 week period this year, provided “there is no impact on any school transportation or the links with primary schools”.

But a spokeswoman for bus provider First Group would not confirm if an aligned timetable would result in higher public transport costs for the council.

She added: “We will work closely with SBC to look at transport provision required should they decide to alter opening hours of schools within the area.”