Sark’s Seneschal’s Court heard an application from five parents against 17 members of Chief Pleas after the government had, earlier in the week, rejected plans to acquire a property in Guernsey to house Sark students over the age of 13. They argued that the government must take responsibility for children’s accommodation while in school.
Six children have been accepted into Guernsey schools for this September, but a lack of suitable host families means they cannot secure their places.
‘It will have immediate and devastating repercussions for this cohort of pupils and a long-term impact on the island’s education,’ said Paul Armorgie, acting chairman of the island’s Board of Education, established by Chief Pleas to monitor, support and challenge the island’s Education Committee.
‘The other parents involved have been so frustrated they have gone out and found other solutions.
‘It has been going on for such a long time that they have become disillusioned with the process. This absolutely needs to be sorted, otherwise we will have this same process every year.
‘Some hosts did come forward but didn’t meet the requirements needed, so Sark was forced to look at alternatives, one of them being the rental of a house in Guernsey.’
Chief Pleas rejected the idea on grounds of cost. Now it is intending to discuss the matter again in August, including consideration of encouraging Sark parents to make their own arrangements, which would be supported by public funding. Mr Armorgie said that did not take account of matters such as social or sporting needs.
‘The board is really fighting the corner of the children, our voice is the voice of them and parents. The lines of communication with us and Chief Pleas has been poor, so our aim is to open those lines of communication and talk to each other. We don’t want it to end up in court.’
Mr Armorgie said that educational standards in the island were still good. But he was worried about the future. He said the ‘buzz’ in the school, which only takes pupils up to 13, was ‘tremendous’, but rolls are falling and that too is a cause for concern.
‘Sark is trying to attract new families to the island, but if when your child reaches 13 they have no access to accommodation during education then we won’t attract new people.’
The plaintiffs were given a week to reconvene and tidy up legalities within their application, but Seneschal Victoria Stamps said the number of defendants listed was ‘ridiculous’.
‘If there was to be further action I would like it to be more focused and pragmatic – the court is not in a place to make grand gestures to get headlines.’
She pointed out there were only five weeks left before the school term begins, and said that ideally, agreement should be reached outside of court.
Chief Pleas will meet again on 17 August.