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Education review highlights staff concerns about high turnover

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STAFF in education have raised concerns about the high level of turnover when the new committee took control in 2018.

Education Sport & Culture president Matt Fallaize. (28529914)

The issue came to light as part of the governance review of Education, Sport & Culture which was released this morning, which concluded that while generally things were 'satisfactory', many challenges remain and the committee has improved its effectiveness in recent months.

It says that trust between the committee and civil servants is much more variable than among the politicians themselves.

'Some interviewees expressed the view that some civil servants are more trusted and favoured by the committee than others,' the review by Professor Catherine Staite says.

'Others referred to the high number of people who left the central Education Office on or around the time when the current committee was elected in early 2018. Examples were given of some civil servants feeling that they did not have a future in the Education Office because they had previously been working to deliver the plans for change to secondary education that had been developed by the previous committee.

'One extreme example of this pattern of behaviour that was referred to by some civil service interviewees related to a member of staff who returned from holiday to be told their services were not wanted and immediately sent on "gardening leave". The understanding of the interviewees who referred to this was that the person involved had been asked to leave at the request of the committee. The committee maintains that it was not involved in that decision.'

The report says that it has not been possible to calculate the exact number of staff who have left the Education Office since February 2018, or the number whose reason for leaving related to issues with the new committee.

Estimates of the numbers given to the reviewer by interviewees vary from 17 to 22.

'Whatever the exact figure, it is clear that a large number of staff left in a short space of time and that was bound to undermine the ability of the remaining staff to provide the appropriate level of support to the committee.'

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ESC president Matt Fallaize said: 'the overall conclusion seems to be that in many aspects governance is satisfactory with many remaining challenges and that effectiveness has improved over time and we feel this is a fair and balanced assessment.

‘Our committee is particularly pleased that the report states that we strive to be open and transparent, that we are driven by strong moral principles and that we try to make evidence-based decisions rather than operating in a populist way.

‘Given the mix of interviewees between current and former staff, there was always likely to be a divergence of views. We note the concerns raised by some of the interviewees about staff turnover in early 2018 following our election.

'When forming the committee we were very open in saying that the Education Office was in need of reform - this was something that many people inside and outside the States had argued for over a long period of time. At that time, the Education Office was not well equipped to provide the advice and support needed by the committee to carry out the ambitious policy agenda on which it was elected.

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'While the committee had no involvement in any of the specific staff departures or movements at this time, it is fair to say we were supportive of the need for reform and fully backed the senior civil servants who were equally determined to make it happen.'

The report says that another theme which was highlighted by several interviewees was that the current committee is so convinced of the rightness of its plans to restructure secondary education and so passionate about the need to improve educational outcomes, that members seem to them to have adopted an approach which was summed as ‘the end justifies the means’.

'While it is commendable for any committee to have a clear vision and to drive its agenda forward, it is always useful to create space for reflection and constructive challenge,' it says.

The report says that interviewees were consistent in their views that the committee strives to be open and transparent.

But there were two areas of concern.

'The first was a sense that some civil servants are treated as "insiders" and some as "outsiders" and the "outsiders" felt they were not included in discussions about the future shape of education.'

The second area of concern was the transparency of recruitment processes, with anxieties expressed about recruitment to the posts of the Executive Principal of the Guernsey Institute, the Director of Education and the Head of Curriculum & Standards.

Although committee members are not usually involved in civil service appointments, the president was involved in the recruitment of the Head of Curriculum & Standards.

That appointment became the subject of an Scrutiny investigation, which was later dropped.

'It might be appropriate for presidents of committees to have some input to the recruitment of a very few, very senior roles, for example, the chief executive. However, it is not good practice for them to be involved in the recruitment to other roles. Such involvement might give rise to concerns of political patronage, which can undermine the independence of the civil service.'

The report by Professor Catherine Staite is based on a review of committee papers and interviews with committee members and several current and former staff.

Nick Mann

By Nick Mann
author

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