ESC’s vision has led it down dogmatically-driven dead end

GET the schools done, versus years of dither and delay – the two central messages being relied on by Education, with more than a hint of Brexit messaging about them.

With 2,500 people taking to the streets last Sunday and nine in 10 teachers coming out against the current Education, Sport & Culture committee proposals, what it needs now is for a path to be taken to a solution that much more of the population can coalesce around than what is currently happening.

Education still has options.

Speak privately to its supporters and they will say it would be irresponsible to go back to the States and ask for more money to create better facilities at their chosen school sites – they say they have got as much money out of Policy & Resources as they can and are offering value for money.

And there is some backing for the idea that teachers in Guernsey have become too used to overspecified schools with too much space.

But the message ESC is getting is that the public and professionals want those facilities, they are not worried about extra capital spend – and given how much money is sitting in the capital reserve at the moment there is finance available should the committee want to take this to the States.

If anything, they have misjudged the public mood for spending on the schools plan.

Another route for the committee to take could be a transition period, pledging to review the reality of the large schools once they are operational and come back for more if space really does become a factor – or the traffic chaos feared ensues.

St Sampson's High School. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 27072296)

That option is a tough sell given the mood music, though.

The third option is to tough it out, decide that the public and professional discomfort is not strong enough to warrant change and that their solution will prove all the detractors wrong and banking that they have a good enough case to concentrate on winning a States debate rather than a public one.

It may be much easier to keep a majority of their colleagues on side than the population at large, but a dictatorial approach is fraught with danger.

On the other side of the table, political supporters of delay have one major problem, they are vulnerable for not coming up with an answer themselves – if they win the requete, the States and the public discourse risks being directionless until after the election.

They probably fear proposing a solution would alienate some of their supporters, but at some point there has to be a shift to an answer and it would be healthier if that came soon.

We have, though, already seen a narrowing of the options.

Selection is dead, so it must be a comprehensive system.

There is currently too much opposition for the two-school solution to deliver on the policy objectives supported by the Assembly, it simply cannot with nine out of 10 teachers in opposition. So while it might pass financial muster, it certainly doesn’t pass the bigger test. So drop it.

Four schools is also out of the window because of not only what has already happened, but because of the costs, and it has barely even featured in the debate currently going on.

So we are looking at three schools.

Scratch off the option of rebuilding La Mare because of the unsuitability of the site and the expense of flood protection measures – again, there seems to be a general acceptance of this.

Now remember that ESC argues the States would not accept three schools, that it has already been rejected. But just what did this Assembly reject? I’d argue the former ESC’s plans failed more because of the dog’s breakfast of post-16 education than it did over the number of high schools. Read the Hansard and there was never any attention paid to a three-schools solution using Les Beaucamps, St Sampson’s and the Grammar site with a sixth form because it was never fully spelled out in the States report, even though it should have been.

Les Beaucamps High School. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 26669629)

Deputies were drawn to the golden elixir of 11 to 18 education because of the arguments that teachers wanted to teach across a broad age group and it would allow a broader curriculum because of the numbers on site. They preferred that package to the mishmash being offered by ESC at the time.

They also got hung up that equality meant having everything exactly the same, down to the number of students on each site, and it has led them down a dogmatically-driven dead end.

The former ESC committee did some basic costings on the three-school model – two at 11 to 16 and one 11 to 18 – but no one took much notice because the fight ended up being between the two-school versus the committee’s preferred solution.

That plan can quickly be revitalised, perhaps tweaked so you end up with a seven-form entry at St Sampson’s and six each at Les Beaucamps and Les Varendes.

Those teachers who want to stay teaching in smaller schools can, those who want to continue with 11 to 18 can, treat it as one ‘school’ over three sites, and the teachers can even move between sites during the week to teach the full age range (better that than the old four-school bussing kids around plan). Continuing the one-school philosophy would also allow for the modernisation of the management structure and devolved powers as envisaged at the moment.

This model also keeps in place the proposal for the Guernsey Institute (the merger of Guernsey College of Further Education, GTA, the Institute of Health and Social Care Studies) which had found professional support.

The capital costs, based on previous work, would be some £9m. for small extensions at the two current high schools and about £32m. on Les Varendes, which needs a new roof. The bill for the institute remains the same.

Guernsey is moving towards a solution by a process of elimination – the community has to feel comfortable with the package, but most importantly so do the professionals because it is they who will sway the opposition that had led to thousands marching and signing petitions.

Both ESC and their opponents have a route to success – what everyone agrees on is that a resolution is needed swiftly.

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