There’s a statue outside Govan Underground station depicting a woman leading a line of protesters. Her name is Mary Barbour, and in 1915, she was one of the leaders of the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association, the organisation behind the famous Glasgow Rent Strike.

One of those behind her is a man with a child on either side, each holding placard. One says ‘the will of the people is law’ while the other declares: “we want justice".

Today, another protest is taking place, but instead of fighting rent rises in the city, this one is about opposing cuts to teacher numbers across Glasgow’s schools.

They have gathered here, at Govan Cross, because it is in the constituency of Councillor Richard Bell, the Convener for Financial Inclusion on Glasgow City Council, which recently passed budget proposals that will see up to 450 teaching posts disappear over the next three years.

As The Herald reported in March, those cuts have already begun with the imposition of a new ‘staffing formula’ as part of an initial loss of 172 teaching posts. According to teachers, this will make it “impossible for schools to support pupils properly” while also increasing staff workload.

Today’s protest has been organised and led by the Glasgow City Parents Group, whose convener Leanne McGuire is adamant that the “looming cuts threaten every corner of Glasgow’s education system.” This, she says, is what has driven the group to “push back against these decisions with unwavering determination".

Anticipating their response, she tells me that “Glasgow City Council is correct when they state we are now engaging with the cross-party political group, however, doubts remain about their actual influence, especially since decisions for August 2024 are already set while the cross-party group is just getting started.”

They are fighting, she says, “for our kids’ education”, which is why they must “challenge the powers that be and ensure our children’s future isn’t compromised."

Those fears for the future are the key theme running through the speeches and one-to-one conversations going on today.

Susan Quinn, a headteacher representing the EIS union, speaks passionately about the impact on teachers and young people across the city, and says that the new staffing formula “creates real safety issues in schools.” She also warns that children with additional support needs are going to be “worst hit” because existing support levels simply cannot be maintained in the face of the impending cuts.

The Herald: Anas Sarwar speaks at the protest in GovanAnas Sarwar speaks at the protest in Govan (Image: Colin Mearns)

There are particular concerns about the schools that will be left with just one member of staff – the headteacher – who is not in class full-time. The council says that this will be the case for “less than a third” of primary schools, but the teachers here don’t seem to find that remotely reassuring.

And even in schools where more than one member of staff is available, the reductions in this additional capacity – or attempts to massage the situation by sending extra probationers to schools – are, I’m told, going to cause huge problems and significant safety concerns.

Some of those here have taught in Glasgow’s schools for decades, and insist that the current situation is as bad as things have ever been. I hear about people who have left other professions to become teachers in the last few years, and who have made that transition under unimaginably difficult circumstances, only to now be told there are no jobs.

“They won’t stay,” one says. And of course he’s right.

But it’s not just teaching jobs that are on the agenda today – there are constant mentions of the threats to both MCR Pathways and Developing Young Workforce co-ordinators in schools.

Sean O’Neill is one of eleven such workers who have been told that, as things stand, they are losing their job at the end of the school year.

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He describes the council’s proposals as the imposition of “generational cuts” that will do enormous, long-term harm - especially in working class communities. Standing in the middle of Govan, addressing the gathered crowd, he shouts a message to Richard Bell: “Put the city before your career.”

But he also feels strongly that John Swinney “owes it to us to step in”. O’Neill says that “working class people have long memories” and then talks about the 2020 SQA results scandal, in which pupils from the poorest areas faced having their grades reduced for no other reason than the past performance levels in their school. The plan was approved, and defended, by John Swinney – who was eventually forced into a humiliating U-turn in the face of mounting political pressure and, above all, pupil protests.

And all of those concerns, from pupils safety to staff morale to justice for working class children, are echoed by parents who have come here today. One woman tells me that she is “acutely aware of the pressure on teachers”, whom she believes deserve far more support, and that after everything young people have gone through in recent years, schools should be given “more, not less.” She has one child in primary school and another in nursery, so worries about the immediate effect of the cuts and the long term impact on schools.

Another parent adds that their children’s teachers are “amazing” but laments that “so much has been cut in the last couple of years”. The prospect of further cuts, this time significantly reducing teacher numbers, has left her deeply concerned about the future of education in Glasgow.

The Herald: Glasgow City Parents Group protest planned cuts to teacher numbers Glasgow City Parents Group protest planned cuts to teacher numbers (Image: Colin Mearns)

The protests have plenty of support from trade unions and politicians, who told The Herald that they ‘stand in solidarity’ with those opposing the council’s plans for education cuts.

Glasgow EIS is already in dispute with the council over the plans to cut hundreds of teachers, and The Herald understands that the union is now moving towards the next stage of that fight. Ultimately, that could mean strike action.

Their spokesperson pointed out that a reduction of 450 over three years would represent “nearly 10% of teachers currently working in Glasgow” and warned that “the impact to education provision in the city will be severe if these cuts are not reversed.”

“We continue to resist these cuts and those our colleagues in DYW and MCR Pathways are facing because this represents a further depletion in the support networks we offer in Glasgow schools. This package of cuts will critically diminish the resources and support our pupils need, deserve and are entitled to as we lose good teachers who have trained hard and now face the insecurity and hardship that job losses will bring.”

Pam Duncan-Glancy, Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, was in parliament during the protest, although the party leader, Anas Sarwar, attended instead and delivered a short speech to the gathered crowd. Duncan-Glancy told me Councillor Bell must “engage with all the relevant parties” to avert the cuts and warned that “Glasgow will not easily forgive or forget” a failure to do so.

The loss of so many staff, she added, “would be disastrous to education and efforts to close the attainment gap for many. The collective voice of the Glasgow City Parents Group, along with our unions and education colleagues, is clear: any attack on Glasgow’s next generation must be strongly opposed.”

In response to the protest, a spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said: “The Treasurer, the City Convener for education and early years, and the city convener for Workforce have all met with the GCPG to discuss the budget savings for education with a commitment to feedback information after each political oversight group meeting.

“Two representatives also sit on the education, early years and skills committee and can ask questions at this forum which includes the Executive Director of Education.

“Information on the February budget savings of £108million have been in public domain since then and have been reported across several platforms and channels.

“Applying the new staffing formula – which was first discussed a week after the budget - has resulted in less than a third of our primary schools where the headteacher is the only member of the senior management team not class committed, and this is a fluid situation as we have still to place around 200 probationers across the city.

“Officers will continue to support our headteachers and their schools during this time.

“At every stage we will do everything we can to minimise any impact to schools but in the current financial climate the council must look at every option.

“We know that this will be a worrying time for everyone - for many years education spending has been prioritised, relative to other services, in the budget process.

“However, with the education budget now amounting to more than half of service expenditure directed by the council, it is significantly more challenging to protect education when substantial savings are needed.”