In ELC, the SNP has been very conscious of the high value set by residents on the excellent education available in its schools and has set much store in continuing that tradition. In each of the last three budgets, spending on education has been either increased or protected from cuts, which is no small achievement when the £98m spent on education is virtually half of the £208m total budget for the council.
The six secondary schools each continue to control their own £ multi-million spend and each has managed to improve on its exam statistics, as well as (contrary to Labour claims) exhibiting lower youth unemployment rates in March 2011 than in March 2007. However, there continue to be two problems: 1) An unevenness is statistics that can’t be explained by demographic differences and; 2) relatively low priority (and prestige) given to vocational training.
Such secondary issues are actually best addressed at primary level and the earlier the better. By selecting certain schools and providing extra teaching staff in P1-P3, class sizes as small as 18 allow teachers to spend time with individual pupils to assist with basic numeracy and literacy. East Lothian is also one of eight ‘test sites’ for Support from the Start, which was launched in March 2009 by the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland at a Musselburgh conference. ELC, NHS and community organisations now work together to improve access to support and services to close our notorious health gap right in the early years of life.
Together, these programmes boost the chance that, throughout their later schooling, increased confidence and ability will allow all children to exploit the chances on offer.
For those early years where pupils are exhibiting emotional difficulties, last year, we introduced Place 2Be. This charity was established in 1994 in response to increasing concern about the extent and depth of emotional and behavioural difficulties displayed in classrooms and playgrounds.
By giving children the chance to explore their problems through talking, creative work and play, we enable them to cope now and make better-informed decisions about their lives and help prevent more serious mental health and behavioural problems in later life. Backed up by more pro-active community policing, our community wardens and better youth facilities, social difficulties are more easily dealt with and the risk of alienation diminished.