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Fools rush in...

Peter Gillson | Published:

IT SEEMS from the length of Education’s letter in Friday’s Guernsey Press that I may have upset them. They challenged me, saying that their favoured option will annually save £2m.

(Picture by MorganStudio/Shutterstock) (25661423)

Well, their business case for the two 11-18 schools shows the baseline ‘do nothing’ annual costs to be £19.59m. One option’s costs are estimated to be £17.79m. – a saving of £1.8m., while their preferred option has a cost of £18.85m. – a saving of only £0.74m.

Their figures, not mine.

They also said that plans were available at public drop-ins. Is that what this committee believes is being open and transparent – expecting us to attend drop-ins to find out information which previous committees had included in their States reports?

Not open, not transparent, just poor government.

I must also comment on the latest revelation of political involvement in recruitment for the post of director of education.

The interview panel consisted of two members of the committee, two educationalists and two civil servants. Reasonably normal. But rather than the normal process of the interview panel making the decision, the panel reported to the political committee, which made the decision.

Let’s just think about this for a moment: the decision was made by five deputies, three of whom had not attended the interview.

Apparently, the interview process prior to the current committee was for the president to attend interviews for the director of education, and it would be that interview panel which would make the decision, not the committee.

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As far as I am aware, such political involvement is totally unprecedented in the civil service.

Tomorrow sees the debate on Education’s proposals for the capital funding.

There are two sursis motions and four amendments on the States website, so I thought it worth considering the merits of each.

Three amendments are from Policy & Resources. In essence, they tidy up some wording but largely they try to ensure greater emphasis on obtaining value for money.

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The trouble is that without a detailed analysis as a baseline you have nothing to gauge what is value for money.

Admittedly, P&R’s wording is less bad than Education’s, but it does seem to be an attempt to give deputies the opportunity to vote for something. To seem to do something, while still not actually addressing the lack of information which Scrutiny identified. Fundamentally, nothing will change – the Assembly will be approving everything and delegating everything to Education and P&R without sufficient information, just as with Education’s propositions.

A return to the days of decisions made behind closed doors.

Deputies Dudley-Owen and Prow and Meerveld and Paint have submitted two sursis and one amendment between them, which have a common theme of sending Education away, to return with policy letters containing more information and comparing the two-school model with the three-school model.

Deputy Meerveld’s asks for this comparison by next May, with an emphasis on justifying the reduction in space.

On first reading this my reaction was like Education’s: fewer buildings means space can be used more efficiently. However, when I realised the magnitude of the reductions my concerns grew. For example, grass playing fields will reduce by 81%, and school hall space by 40%.

I admit that I am not sure what impact these reductions will have but they do seem to be very large, especially recalling the fuss when St Sampson’s High was built with its playing fields being just about sufficient for the school – and the plans are to increase student numbers.

Getting more information to understand and justify the reductions is a valid request.

Hold on, I hear you say, won’t that be a lot of work? Not really. Presumably Education has not just accepted these reductions without understanding their impact – that would be irresponsible of the committee. So they must have evaluated the impact and concluded the reductions were justified – in which case the work is done, so why not be transparent with it?

Deputy Dudley-Owen gives Education until November to return but also asks for a comparison with a model including selection at 11.

I don’t like the inclusion of a model which includes selection. That battle is over and now that the first year has moved from primary to secondary without selection, it is practically irreversible.

Despite the disappointing P&R amendments, the fundamental choice facing deputies is to either approve the proposals or send Education away for more information and a comparison between the two-school and three-school models.

Asking for more information and a comparison has great merit. As Scrutiny has pointed out, the policy letter does not include enough information or evidence to justify supporting the proposals.

But there is an even more important reason for the Assembly to debate a fair comparison – education is an emotive subject.

Comparisons have been made with Health’s capital projects, but unlike health, education is contentious and Deputy Fallaize is right when he says not everybody will be happy with whatever option is chosen. I believe that means the matter needs more careful and open consideration rather than rushing this option through to get it past the point of no return before any real scrutiny is possible.

Where something is contentious there should be higher governance and greater openness and debating both options side by side would provide that.

If, as Education suggest, the two-school model has far greater benefits, then what do they have to fear from debating a comparison? Surely it makes sense to give deputies the opportunity to openly compare both options so the benefits of the two-school model can be clearly seen by everybody.

When the current two-school model was approved, the States had even less information and it was acknowledged to be a ‘leap of faith’, so giving deputies the opportunity to compare the details of different models is a good safety check.

After all, this is a huge, once-in-a-generation change to the education structure so we need to get it right.

This should not create a huge amount of work for Education. The three-school model was already produced so it is a matter of increasing the costs for inflation while anything relating to the two-school is either completed or needs to be done anyway.

Yes, these do create delay, but it is not kicking the can down the road – the States need to have all of the information to make an informed decision. We need to be sure the decision is the right one, not just the most convenient one.

One final thought. Education are in the middle of a scandal. The whole committee is facing a code of conduct complaint and probably an independent inquiry. There seems to be a level of public mistrust in the committee which I have not seen before. We know that changes to education are controversial and polarise opinion, but this time it goes further – people are questioning the behaviour of the committee, deepening mistrust of the proposals.

This position where a committee is facing code of conduct complaints and a formal tribunal, all linked to a policy letter they are taking to the States, is unprecedented and more damaging than Fallagate.

This situation is serious enough to justify a delay until the enquiries have been completed and public faith restored, otherwise the whole of our government could be tainted by the accusation of rushing this through, despite public concerns.

We need to remember that when these schools are built there is no changing for 40-50 years so we need to get it right, and at the moment it seems very much like Education are rushing it through – and that is a disservice to our children.

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