Staite: Education staff ‘feared for their futures’

A SIGNIFICANT number of civil servants with responsibility for Guernsey’s schools left when the current Education committee took over with an idea for two large comprehensive colleges at St Sampson’s and La Mare de Carteret.

Professor Catherine Staite. (28532769)
Professor Catherine Staite. (28532769)

An independent governance review has lifted the lid on what happened when committee president Matt Fallaize and his four political colleagues were elected onto Education, Sport & Culture in 2018, after they were successful in their bid to throw out the three-school model.

It is estimated that between 17 and 22 civil servants left in a short space of time.

There was a perception among some staff who had supported the three-school model that they were ‘outsiders’, and several commented on an ‘atmosphere of fear’ and a ‘leadership vacuum’ within the staff ranks at that time.

The main finding of the report was that Deputies Fallaize, Richard Graham, Rhian Tooley, Mark Dorey and Peter Roffey showed ‘satisfactory’ governance, and that they worked hard, had strong moral principles and integrity, and had made significant achievements.

Civil servants highlighted the creation of the Guernsey Institute and improvements to pre-school education as projects they were proud of.

The committee was found to be open and transparent with a clear vision, but at times their passion for the two-school model was ‘too independent of mind’ with an ‘end justifies the means’ mentality, and they ‘avoided taking a populist approach’.

Their efforts to make the two-school model a success were hampered by a lack of strategic human resources support, and an incoherent approach to public consultation, although those were deemed to States-wide problems which were not specific to ESC.

One of the most intriguing parts of the 32-page report concerns the staff turnover in early 2018.

Emeritus professor of public management, Catherine Staite, carried out the investigation and uncovered a period of turmoil.

‘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 committee maintains that it was not involved in that decision.’

During the review, committee members acknowledged to Professor Staite that they had made mistakes and had learned from them.

The governance review was an important exam for ESC, and on the whole it appears to have passed.

Deputy Fallaize welcomed the report and its recommendations.

‘It highlights strengths and weaknesses in governance and it is useful to know where we have performed well and where we could have improved.

‘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.

‘We note the six recommendations and feel it is important they are taken seriously, but we also note that they are for the States as a whole and not for the committee alone.’

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