Guernsey Press

Stubborn Education not for turning on schools overhaul

WHEN you track back the pledges made on education transformation, one of the common themes is the committee’s apparent understanding about the need to listen and communicate.

(Picture by Adrian Miller, 26467634)

Evidently what that has really meant so far is, ‘we will listen when you tell us what we want to hear and communicate when we have to’.

Recent surveys released by two teaching unions has shown widespread professional discontent with what is happening.

Back in March 2018, the then newly-elected Education president Matt Fallaize, fresh from winning approval for the two-school model, was meeting head teachers and said: ‘There was absolute understanding and agreement by all of the importance of clear communications with all teachers, staff, students, parents and the wider community and the need to restore some confidence, given the uncertainty understandably caused as a result of the States debate.’

Fast forward to September, after the States voted through £78m. to develop Les Beaucamps and St Sampson’s High, and he was reflecting on the public and professional mood saying: ‘I accept the need to win more hearts and minds is a challenge for us over the next few months and the committee is very eager to take on that challenge and succeed.’

And in response to the surveys released by the NEU and NASUWT?

‘The surveys also reiterated something we are fully aware of, which is that our engagement with school staff needs to improve significantly.’

To have it ESC’s way, it sounds like if they were just given a chance to explain things, everything would be rosy.

But it is 20 months in, something is not right.

The real problem being highlighted by the unions is with the inadequate designs of the new schools themselves, but that is not a debate that Education wants to have, nor did it have any real desire to throw that spanner in the works when asking for the money in the first place.

That is why the survey that showed La Mare de Carteret site easily outranked Les Beaucamps was conveniently buried until after the States debate.

There is only so much that can be done on the confines of Les Beaucamps – ESC is in a trap of its own making there and it was never made clear to States members what was missing because there were no detailed designs available.

But what will suffer ultimately will be children’s education – spending nearly £80m. on cramped facilities which cannot be adapted makes very little sense.

Questions still rage about the logic of splitting the sixth form over two sites too, seemingly driven by an ideological desire to make everything equal and a hope that having the full range of age groups will be more attractive to teachers.

ESC is not for turning, no matter how strong the professionals’ case is.

Its stubbornness is largely what has got it this far, but that bravado can lead to costly mistakes. The public will be asking who they trust more with the future of the system, politicians who have become overnight experts, or teachers with countless years of experience between them, who are living on the coalface everyday.

It is not just the secondary sector which is being disrupted at the moment, the focus on literacy standards in the primary schools and shifting emphasis on how to teach so soon after a new curriculum was introduced is causing some consternation.

ESC looked like it was trying to change the news focus when it announced that an extra £300,000 was being spent to improve standards – it came on the heels of the union surveys dominating the headlines, but had been approved and in the public domain as part of the Budget already.

But it is curious how the committee has already decided where to spend the money when the survey it has ordered on literacy has not even been completed.

This is much like getting the States to sign up to rebuilding La Mare Primary as part of the secondary school debate, when a review of primary school provision has not been finished.

That gives the impression of decisions being prejudged, for whatever reason.

Indeed, it is incumbent on ESC to be much more upfront about how much it is changing the curriculum and why only a few years after its launch.

Change is bound to bring a sense of unease, poorly explained and poorly supported change even more so.

This committee’s predecessors were also accused of not listening, so it might just be an unfortunate affliction that comes with the territory.

But it is a dangerous one.

ESC is working at speed to try and deliver secondary transformation and bring about change in the primary sector. It is spinning a lot of plates, all without the most senior appointment, a director of education, being in place.

The committee’s reputations have been staked on it working, as are those who have backed them, and they do not want to see it unravelled by the next States after the general election.

It has not won the hearts and minds as it promised it would, in fact it looks like it has retreated into a more entrenched, dictatorial position.

A position of ‘we need to communicate better’ is not an answer to so many of the issues it faces, however many times it repeats it.