OPINION: We don’t need a world-class school system

Just like Jersey, we need to focus on facilities that are suitable for the island, says Horace Camp

I RARELY bother myself with what’s going on in the Other Island but a few days ago my eyes fell upon a piece by Gary Burgess.

I doubt if anyone in the Channel Islands needs an introduction to Gary, but just in case you are new here Gary is probably the finest journalist we have seen in these islands in the 21st century and in addition is just a thoroughly great example of our species.

On the particular day I spotted the Gary Burgess JEP piece on social media (posted by Gary, who is also one of the great self publicists of the CI, possibly second only to me) about the fabled new hospital the States of Jersey has wanted to build for years and years.

The Jersey hospital is their version of our new secondary school system. I think that’s all you really need to know. If Dickens was to write a novel on either topic he would call it Great Aspirations: The Return To Bleak House.

Gary could write on any topic and make it readable but his hospital column really resonated something within me. And as always with any topic, I eventually got around to ‘How does this affect Guernsey?’. It was the simple concept that Jersey doesn’t need a world-class hospital but a facility that is right for the island.

That just blew me away and the scales dropped from my eyes. Neurons in my brain that hadn’t been used in years suddenly spiked and came alive, piercing the fog and blowing away the cobwebs with gusto. Like my life flashing before my eyes, States project after States project came into my mind and each of them began with the world-class aspirations and ended up as some over-priced Heath Robinson affair made up of objets trouve which appeared to be a thing of beauty only to its creator.

The Jersey hospital started out as a £250m. grand project and is now an £800m. grand project heading at great speed to a £1bn grand project. And in all those years of growth to a plan which has no equal on the planet for cost per square foot, the people of Jersey have seen nothing except the spending of their hard-earned tax money.

What if they had started with a plan to build a hospital suitable for a population of 100,000 or so rather than starting with the idea of building a full service, world-class hospital that any great Western nation would be proud to call its own?

And what about us? We have about half the population of Jersey but will we expect The PEH2 to be equal to the Jersey one which, as Gary pointed out, has no equal in the civilised world? Or will we plan for a more modest structure which is right for Guernsey? Do we start with offering every clinical procedure known to woman or do we cut our coat according to our cloth?

This column isn’t about hospitals, it is about the mindset of our politicians.

Cast your mind back to the political decision to remove the 11-plus. We had x kids being taught by y teachers in z schools. You see, algebra does have its uses after all.

Since that time in the post 11-plus world we have had the same number of kids being taught by the same number of teachers in the same number of schools. And on the face of it nothing much has changed.

Since that decision, we have decided to create a world-class educational system. We have invested significant amounts of time and money in planning to deliver that WC school system. Political careers have foundered (gone down the toilet, you may say) and the community has been divided. But there is nothing else to show for it except giving my fellow columnist Colonel Graham the opportunity to write a cracking piece and getting to mention William Brown’s Violet Elizabeth Bott.

In the meantime. we obviously have a facility suitable for the island because it is doing its job. The challenge seems to be not that we need to world-class it but to reform it to be something we can afford in the long term. Everything comes down to that bolt of grey cloth we have in the cupboard and what we can make out of it rather than imagining the Coat of Many Colours we would like to have.

If we focus on a serviceable grey coat now we can have it made before the weather turns cold and, though we won’t turn many heads, we will get through the winter snug and warm. However, if we insist on the CoMC we will spend years debating which colours, in what order and how patterned. And for every one of those years we will continue to wear our serviceable but threadbare old coat and shiver a lot every winter.

I very much like the idea of keeping things simple and just getting it done by not letting perfect be the enemy of good. I’d rather a good stout coat now to keep me dry and warm than wait for a world-class one that I probably couldn’t afford anyway and, to be honest, will be only marginally better.

By the time you read this, the Education debate will have recommenced and rumbled on and on to reach some kind of outcome. Or possibly have been set back to square one in the never-ending search for that elusive world-class education system.

Well, in my view, we must listen to the wise words of Gary Burgess and just get on with it and build something suitable for this island and build it sooner rather than later.

I know that my views count for nothing and 39 democratically elected representatives will do their utmost to make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse, but one can always hope.

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