Guernsey Press

Awaiting Education’s cunning plan for secondary schools...

Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen’s requete to pause the two-school process has resulted in the now ESC president and her committee trying to unravel some of the uncomfortable consequences of that move

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Education, Sport & Culture president Andrea Dudley-Owen. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29231516)

EDUCATION is twisting and turning... like a twisty turny thing.

Like so much in life, Blackadder, or in this case Lord Melchett, had a line to perfectly sum up what is going on.

In a more sober look at where the new committee is going, well, it’s a bit more complicated, but isn’t it always?

We are where we are, with a pause, because of a requete led last term by Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, who is now with her committee trying to unravel some of the uncomfortable consequences of that move.

The most obvious of these is that while it stopped the two-school model in its tracks, it did not end it completely.

That is potentially very awkward. For all the dislike of that model, and I’ve written against it because of the widespread problems with lots of the details that no one had a sensible answer to, it was likely the cheapest on the table and there was, and still is, strong support for what it delivered educationally as well.

ESC argues it wants rid because it is undeliverable, but it does not take a genius to work out that it is also an awkward distraction simply because it might look, well, quite good compared with what else is out there.

The committee is definitely performing some mental gymnastics when it says it doesn’t want two schools in the picture as a comparison because it’s not viable, but wants to have four schools in there when pretty much the only thing anyone agrees on is that the current system has to change.

ESC talks about taking ownership, which it should, but it should take ownership of the whole picture, not just the nice bits.

The public would have been forgiven for thinking the first report on secondary education it produced would, given all the work that has already happened, be a clear direction on what model it will pursue.

What we have so far is more pause, more of what it does not want to do.

The reason for that must be two-fold.

Firstly, it does not know.

The requete supporters never coalesced about a model, just opposition. Yes, three schools were the declared intention of the majority of candidates in the election, but they never had to give any serious thought to what that actually meant in detail. Now, everyone does.

You can come up with endless permutations, but there is not a blank cheque for delivering this and one of the drivers, for all the talk of better educational outcomes (what a shocking thing to expect from an education system), was actually saving money.

That is where the second factor in the extended pause comes in.

Rowan Atkinson and Sir Tony Robinson in Blackadder (29231513)

Whatever ideology this Education committee is following, and let’s hope it amounts to more than trite management-speak soundbites which have spilled out at will so far, it is clashing with Policy & Resources’ philosophy of spending restraint.

Three schools with however many sixth forms at whichever sites is going to cost more than two. It was always going to.

And the longer the pause holds, the more it will cost.

ESC also has to bring along what it describes as key stakeholders, who the rest of us call teachers.

They are a powerful lobby in this and they, too, are not necessarily united.

What you can expect them to be as one about is the type of facilities they expect, whether that is classroom size, the width of corridors, study space, canteens, staff rooms, libraries, or for sports.

The mood last term was not one of compromise and the public will not expect the island to start downgrading towards UK standards.

Remember the row between Education and the Treasury & Resources committee when it came to plans to redevelop La Mare High back in 2014?

Education will push the envelope, but those holding the purse strings will always push back.

Somewhere along the line all the cards have to be laid out.

A three-school model will provide comparable facilities with the two-school approach only if more money is spent.

That could well be acceptable to many, but would require those holding the purse strings to fold at the first test of their political philosophy.

Three schools could be done more cheaply, but that requires educationalists to fold on the facilities offered.

That is probably superficially attractive to those who think good education can be delivered in huts in fields with no heating because it is ‘just world class teaching that counts’ and it was ‘OK in my day’.

They, of course, never had to plug a laptop in and do coding.

Education is right to come back to the States if it wants to change course. It needs that endorsement.

It also needs to at the same time set out clearly where it is heading.

Can you spin it? No you can’t

Indulge me if you will on a short journey back in time. It is Tuesday 26 January and Deputy Peter Ferbrache is speaking at the Covid press conference at Beau Sejour.

Reading from a prepared script about business support measures during lockdown, he says: ‘We are also including a clause in the scheme so that where businesses find they are making a profit over the course of the year we will be able to ask for payroll co-funding to be returned. It remains our intention to publish information about businesses who receive such support.’

Those two sentences, delivered in his usual calm manner, have since unravelled. P&R has rightly changed its position, but tried to spin it all largely as ‘clarifications’ and ‘misunderstandings’ – and that erodes trust and creates uncertainty.

First we had the reversal of the profit-making claw-back, which went from any profit, to a certain amount, to not being enacted in January and February, as the business community lobbied hard.

Then late on Tuesday it rushed out a press release quoting Deputy Mark Helyar that tried to portray a U-turn on publishing details of businesses receiving money all as a ‘misunderstanding’ because of misreporting on social media.

It didn’t take long for those on social media to hit back.

Probably because the declarations everyone has had to sign to get the money make it all explicit. Maybe because it has been asked about in subsequent media briefings and challenged in the States, with no one saying it was all wrong.

The States’ own website said: ‘to ensure transparency of ongoing payroll funding, it remains the intention to publish information of those organisations claiming financial assistance through the scheme. This may include details such as the name of the business or self-employed individual, number of employees claimed for and the total amount claimed. It may include aggregated information for the self-employed.’

Since the statement was issued in the name of P&R, one member, Deputy Heidi Soulsby, has said she did not see it before it was released and said it was not handled well.

Deputy Helyar has been challenged on social media but stayed silent.

Sometimes it is just best to hold your hands up, say we listened and changed our mind, and move on.

Instead, the spin has dug a hole.

All for one

Has anyone else noticed the way the local Institute of Directors and Chamber immediately tweet in support of announcements made by P&R?

One to keep an eye on.