Guernsey Press

Andrea Dudley-Owen: ‘Not investing now in education is a false economy’

On Tuesday the States will start to debate the Budget proposals presented by the Policy & Resources Committee. I have lodged an amendment seeking approval to fund the build of Les Ozouets campus.

Education president Andre Dudley-Owen. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 32692606)

This campus will house The Guernsey Institute, including the technical, vocational and training facilities for young people and adults, an apprenticeship block, and the Sixth Form Centre. This construction project falls under the work we call the Transforming Education Programme.

The amendment proposes to:

l add TEP to the approved list of capital projects in the sum of £111m.; and

l to reaffirm (approved in 2020, reaffirmed 2021) authority to borrow up to £200m. to assist, if required, towards funding this and other capital projects in the portfolio, borrowing which, as modelled, will be repaid using the financial measures we agreed from the ‘core package’ in the recent Funding and Investment Plan debate.

Since that debate ended on 20 October, the sense of utter disappointment for many, and sheer disbelief for others, is palpable.

People cannot believe that, despite reaffirming their vision for secondary and further education, the States actively removed investment in the education of our young people and adult learners.

I have heard this from staff, parents, students, unions, business leaders and deputies. Time and again, people tell me that they cannot understand the decision because, like me, they are firm believers that our young people deserve the best education that we can give them.

The future success of our children and young people, and consequently that of our island, is through investing in them via high quality education. A key factor in this is having solid, up-to-date, and fit-for-purpose buildings in which to teach, learn and train.

Such is the strength of my belief that our children, young people and adult learners need our investment, that I will try once more to persuade my political colleagues that the investment in education is an essential component in the success of our island and that we will be doing a great disservice to everyone in the Bailiwick if we do not support our students by giving them the best education that they can possibly have.

I was elected unopposed to the position leading the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture in October 2020. I set out my stall at that time, explaining my belief that the success of our island is directly linked to having a fit-for-purpose education system, designed for the 21st Century.

I have not wavered from this sincere belief, which has shown great results in other countries, leading to economic growth and healthier, more satisfied communities.

Recently I received an email from an interested parishioner asking me two questions which get to the heart of some of the community’s confusion about our post-16 education estate. This is the basis of our exchange and I hope readers find this as helpful as my correspondent did.

Is the existing sixth form not big enough? How many more such students will have to be housed in a Sixth Form Centre to that which exists now?

The sixth form is accommodated across the entirety of Les Varendes School (the former Grammar School). In fact, more than 50% of the sixth form’s lessons take place in 11-16 secondary school classrooms. The extension to the school that is called the ‘Sixth Form Centre’ is a misnomer because it gives the impression that it is self-contained and entirely serves the needs of the sixth form within that centre – that is not the case. It is in fact an annexe including a spacious refectory and atrium, some offices and some teaching rooms.

The number of students in the sixth form is generally around 450.

The number of children using the 11-16 part of the school is increasing now the merger of La Mare de Carteret with Les Varendes has begun. In total, including sixth formers, there are now more than 900 students at the school, and the pressure of these numbers is being felt on a daily basis.

There are no more Year 7 intakes into La Mare de Carteret High School and with primary school Year 6s having started their transitions for September 2024 and a new primary partnership policy in place, children’s pathways from primary to secondary school are mapped out for them well in advance.

In September 2024 there will be just shy of 300 secondary students left in La Mare de Carteret and the following September they will move across to complete the merger.

The final numbers of 11-16 students in each of the secondary schools will settle at about 700, but for a little while longer there will be a bit more than this, as the bulge in our teenage population moves through the demographic cycle.

The 11-16 students at Les Varendes are among some of our most vulnerable children and there is a pressure with numbers and conflict in need as this school transitions at this sensitive time from a grammar to a comprehensive school, which will take some years to settle.

As this progresses, and the culture of the school changes and re-establishes itself, it is so important that the needs of the children who are now in the school, which are different from the needs of a selected group (11-plus grammarians, or sixth formers who are able to pursue A-level and International Baccalaureate by virtue of passing Level 2 qualifications) are well met. Leaving school with sub-standard education is a personal tragedy for each young person who has been let down, but it also has a profound impact on our economy, health and justice outcomes – an expensive and avoidable outcome for the States.

The Sixth Form Centre annexe will be re-purposed to provide much-needed space to support the 11-16 part of the school and also to house related support services such as the Youth Commission, whose focus is on the most vulnerable children. These are complementary and we know that getting pastoral care and behaviour right in schools are key determinants in improving education outcomes.

The young people in the 11-16 part of the school really need that type of support for them to succeed.

Keeping some 450 sixth formers on site creates a total student body of more than 1,200, which overloads buildings that were not designed to support that number. The options to relieve pressure on site have been thoroughly and independently reviewed. These options were not taken forward because either they created sub-standard environments, with significant disruption to all students on site as construction takes place around them during teaching time (it is impossible to complete the works during school holidays), and/or cost up to £30m. to complete – much more costly than a new build at Les Ozouets Campus – and following the breakdown of the relationship with the former R G Falla Ltd, we need an interim solution.

So while awaiting the campus development, the option that is the least costly to the States, least disruptive to staff and students, most feasible in terms of practical considerations and not compromising student outcomes, is to temporarily house the sixth form at La Mare de Carteret. I visited that site last week and was shown round by a member of staff. They teach a technical subject and have taught through secondary, A-level and degree. I was shown the £1.5m. upgrades that have made such a difference to the school in recent years and have extended its life for a few more years. It is light and bright with big corridors and lots of social space. Minor upgrades for subjects such as science and photography are on the cards and the facilities have so much to offer our sixth form students. We don’t want them housed at La Mare for any longer than they need to be, but as a temporary measure they are certainly going to be well catered for in their own dedicated space at that school.

There are many staff across secondary education who just want certainty and to get on with the merger, the move of the sixth form and the build of Les Ozouets Campus.

Guernsey Institute is not fit for purpose at Les Coutanchez – totally agree. Why could they not just move to existing Ozouets site? Is it not big enough? Is it full now?

There are two buildings currently at Les Ozouets. One is the Princess Royal Centre for Performing Arts. This is purpose-built and does what it says on the tin. The other building is the old St Peter Port School, which had some cosmetic upgrades made some years ago, but was closed in July 2022. It is stripped out and boarded up awaiting demolition.

The students at Les Ozouets moved last summer to Les Coutanchez on a temporary basis in anticipation of the Les Ozouets Campus development (the build of the PRCPA some years ago was the first part of the envisioned campus). These students are temporarily working in cramped environments, alongside others who were originally at Les Coutanchez. They all now have to deal with the consequences of build failures which disrupt their learning on an all-too-regular basis.

To move all the students from Les Coutanchez site to Les Ozouets now would mean that the old St Peter Port School – which has also now sadly suffered significant vandalism – would have to be refurbished at some considerable cost and would need to take around double the number of students it had previously. We have no workshops there for the trades, nor catering facilities for those training in hospitality, so these would have to be built, as well as larger social spaces.

Early on, when we considered the options, including whether to build out Les Varendes or to create a separate Sixth Form and to retain the old St Peter Port School building, we found there was a £3m. cost differential for a new build without asbestos, with new plant and machinery and a 60-year life span (that’s its guaranteed term, not when the building is rendered useless or falls down), we deemed it better value to invest in a new facility at Les Ozouets.

To undertake all of these moves/remediations/extensions in some desperation to find an alternative in an endeavour to save money or introduce another delivery model – will cost tens of millions of pounds that will be wasted because a new-build will still be needed in the near future.

The result would be fudged environments with no clear alignment with the improvements or aspirational outcomes our young people deserve. The goodwill of staff, who are now at the end of their tether, will be gone. Guernsey will be left poorer reputationally, financially and educationally which will cause significant damage to our economy and community in the long run.

The transformation process has been in progress for some time, with positive changes being made, reorganisation of staffing under way and poised ready for construction, there is no way back. The problem we face is funding – without finance we cannot go forward.

Readers should be in no doubt that the prospect of not investing now leads to much greater spend in the not-too-distant future and is a false economy today, leaving more debt and expense for taxpayers tomorrow.

In addition, the risk is real of losing very good staff and possibly the hard-won accreditation for many of the courses we offer, especially at TGI, meaning we significantly reduce our educational offer just when we should be expanding it.

This could result in more young people leaving the island to be educated in the UK, making it even harder to attract them back, having been let down by a lack of investment in their education by their own island – a real own goal for us.

I hope that deputies can see the need to approve this essential investment. We are ready to start a two-year build programme immediately. Funding this vital project means our young people and adult learners can look forward to a very bright education future.

I hope readers agree and I encourage them to email deputies with their views – they can do so by emailing