Big schools will work, but we still don't want them

THE ‘one school on two sites’ model will work. The children will be able to travel safely to and from the new colleges and they will receive a perfectly adequate education when they get there. There may be traffic tailbacks, inconvenience for the neighbours and a need for chicanes in the corridors but at the end of the day it will work.

(Picture by Lincoln Beddoe/Shutterstock)
(Picture by Lincoln Beddoe/Shutterstock)

There is proof from the mainland that children can do well in big schools. And consider that 1,400 children per college doesn’t seem a lot when the largest secondary school in the world has nearly 60,000 pupils. Yes, even a school with 60,000 kids can work.

Deputy Matt Fallaize is not the devil incarnate and his ESC team are not in the least bit demonic. In fact, I personally rate his team as better people’s deputies than their vocal opposition who are behind the ‘pause and consider’ requete.

So why do I personally support the view that we should stop and reflect and let the next Assembly decide the way forward?

Because I don’t want to see schools in Guernsey with more than 1,000 students and, I expect, nor do a lot of other islanders. Yes, we know big schools work elsewhere, but we don’t want to be ‘elsewhere’. We quite like being here.

I expect people in England would take the same view if the massive Lucknow school, with enough capacity for our entire population to attend, was suggested by Boris Johnson as an economically efficient model to adopt and suggested a programme of amalgamating big schools into mega schools.

Probably he would have to recruit senior staff from Lucknow to run the project and they, knowing that the model works in India, would quickly rebut the concerns of staff, pupils and populace, possibly by making short videos.

The problem is that culturally, mega schools, no matter how proficient, just will not be accepted by the majority of people.

Compare it with farming (vegans look away now). Intensive livestock farming is efficient and it works. Thousands of animals kept in purpose-built facilities, who never need to even walk into a field, will turn out all the meat and milk we want to eat and drink. Why aren’t we pushing to keep our 2,000 or so cows in a modern state-of-the-art mega farm, which we know is far more efficient than letting Daisy roam about the fields in the sunshine?

The answer is that we don’t want that type of farming in Guernsey.

Culturally, we like things to be as small and friendly as possible. We don’t, for instance, put up high-rise buildings, which seems odd for an island with limited space available. If we built up, we could easily fit 100 families into one building instead of building 100 houses sprawled over our beloved green fields. In fact, if we adopted a Hong Kong approach to housing, we could probably concentrate our entire population in St Peter Port, completely negating our need for cars and restoring the other parishes to farm land.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? And I’m sure we could employ a housing reformation team from HK to oversee the entire project. And culturally the HK team would be far more familiar with the policing methods needed to force Mrs Le Page out of her beloved farmhouse in St Saviour’s prior to its demolition. They would, of course, have no idea why she wants to remain in her draughty, TRP-high and expensive-to-maintain family home when Apartment F908 with all its modern conveniences awaits her in the 50-storey Lisia Tower, built on the site of the old Victor Hugo house.

People are funny, aren’t they? And Guernsey people are some of the funniest of all. They walk about in crowds actively looking for people they know. They do the same when they are driving around. Try that in London or New York, where the culture is a little bit different.

ESC is, of course, responsible for protecting our culture. That’s what the ‘C’ stands for. Creating schools of a size that we have never seen before should possibly raise some flags where culture is concerned. Reducing outside areas should also have concerned ESC when wearing their sport hats.

Culturally, we would be happier with schools no larger than we have now (perhaps even as small as La Mare, which has had the most amazing turnaround) and surrounded by large playing fields.

Educationally, we should accept that big schools can work (remember the 60,000-strong school). We should accept that some will perform better, others worse and the majority the same, no matter what size of school we have. Therefore Education is only a part of the argument. Sport and culture are also important in how we go forward – and of those, culture is the most important.

I will declare an interest. I went to an 11-18 school which, according to ESC, was, and is still, far too small to be effective as an 11-18 school. I was sent there, albeit a very long time ago, by the States of Guernsey so perhaps I should sue the States for denying me the opportunity to study A-level history because it conflicted with geography. How different would my life have been if instead of attending Elizabeth College I had had the opportunity to attend one of the Lisia colleges, where due to there being more than double the number of pupils I would not have been forced to take economics as a second choice?

But let’s be honest, I wouldn’t really have wanted to go to a mega school.

EC suited me well and the pastoral care in ‘vertical tutor groups’ (we called them houses) was first class.

I apologise for choosing education as my topic again but it is the most important decision that we as a community have taken for many a long year.

My plea to the saintly Deputy Fallaize is to take us with him to his promised land in the traditional Guernsey way of favouring the carrot over the stick. I fear he is at the rear of this donkey, pushing it and not walking in front with a bunch of carrots. And if he has no carrots, then it’s time to think again.

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