This article appears as part of the Lessons to Learn newsletter.

Earlier today, SNP and Green councillors in Glasgow voted through significant cuts to the MCR Pathways programme, which has been providing mentoring support for around 2,000 of the city’s most vulnerable secondary pupils.

A Labour amendment seeking to delay any changes for at least the coming school year was rejected.

As a result, the core staffing provision for the scheme is being slashed, and schools have been told to use anti-poverty money (called Pupil Equity Funding, or PEF) if they don’t like it.

Unsurprisingly, given everything else going on, lots of schools don’t have any of that PEF money left, so provision will now vary across the city depending, at least in part, on how much spare cash each school was able to find.

And to top it all off, councillors have waved this through even though a full Equality Impact Assessment has not been carried out.

Despite all this, both the SNP and the Greens have backed the cut – but why?

The most obvious reason is that Glasgow City Council is facing a massive financial black hole, which is also why those same councillors have supported proposals to get rid of nearly 10% of the city’s teaching posts over the coming three years. Supporting vulnerable young people can get expensive, you see, and things are a bit tight these days.

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The main defence for this cut, however, comes down to the claim that it won’t result in a reduction to the number of young people being supported. This is what the Glasgow Greens education spokesperson, Blair Anderson, told us in response to our initial reporting on Tuesday.

Perhaps it’s true that a major staffing reduction, being carried out in an attempt to secure some pretty eye-watering financial savings, won’t have any effect on the outputs of the mentoring programme. Maybe it is the case that pushing through these sorts of changes in the space of a few months, and without carrying out a full analysis of the likely consequences, won’t be harmful to the vulnerable young people that the project exists to support. All things are, theoretically, possible.

But let’s just be realistic for a moment and say that, on the face of it, this is a pretty extraordinary claim – the sort for which you’d usually expect to see some pretty extraordinary evidence.

I mean, if you were being asked to actually vote for this, you’d definitely expect to see some really robust analysis to convince you that it was all going to be okay, right?

(Image: Derek McArthur)
It was on that basis that I asked the Greens (whose councillor made the claim), the SNP (who run the council and are pushing through the cuts) and Glasgow City Council itself to provide the evidence in question, which is what the Glasgow City Parents Group had demanded.

Glasgow City Council were unable to provide the evidence – the Greens and SNP failed to respond.

But then things got even more interesting, because the Greens lodged an amendment in advance of the vote that took place earlier today. In it, they referred to “assurances” they had received from council officers who had, apparently, told them that “they foresee no reduction in the number of children receiving one-to-one mentoring”.

Those “assurances” were, I’m told, entirely verbal, and delivered to the Political Oversight Group that is supposed to be overseeing a range of cuts, including those to teacher numbers.

If you’d been in that room, and provided with the “assurance” that a major education cut wasn’t going to have major negative consequences, wouldn’t you have at least asked the officials to show you their working?

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And given that this is all happening in the context of teachers, parents, mentors, mentees, a leading judge and various others all speaking out against this cut, wouldn’t you have wanted to be absolutely 100% sure about the impact before agreeing to give your support?

It seems incredible that councillors would just accept such a counter-intuitive assertion without asking to see the evidence on which it was based – but that seems to be exactly what has happened. And by sheer coincidence, that has allowed some SNP and Green politicians to accept an extraordinary but politically convenient claim.

After today’s vote, the Greens commented that “one-to-one mentoring support, which is the core of the MCR Pathways programme, can continue in every mainstream secondary school in Glasgow, with no reduction in the level of that support”.

And if that assertion turns out to be wrong? Well, it’s not the councillors who’ll have to suffer any consequences, just some of the most vulnerable and at-risk young people in Glasgow.

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Since nobody seems willing to hand it over without a fight, I’ve now submitted an FOI request asking the council to release all materials behind those “assurances” that cutting MCR Pathways staff won’t reduce the number of pupils taking part in the programme. Councillors have been talking a good game about all the engagement and hard work that has been going on behind the scenes, so I’m sure there’s plenty of material for me to look through.

Then again, given Glasgow’s track-record on transparency, I won’t yet be holding my breath about our chances of getting to the bottom of all of this any time soon.