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Education change proposals to be dropped?

Consultation outcome released

By Gordon Neish
Education change proposals to be dropped?

Council plans to introduce school ‘clusters’ with shared head teachers are set to be dropped after a negative public consultation, we can reveal.

Papers for next Thursday’s meeting of Argyll and Bute Council’s Community Service Committee, released online for public scrutiny as part of the meeting’s agenda, feature a report from Stand – the PR company engaged for £65,000 by the council to make the case for change – giving the outcome of its much-criticised consultation.

And the outcome does not make comfortable reading for the council – or for Stand.

The bottom line is that both the consultation report and a supplementary report by council executive director Douglas Hendry, recommend that ‘the proposals as consulted on are not progressed’.

The Stand report reveals that one of the main concerns raised be people responding to the consultation is a lack of trust in the council, with fears that school clusters would lead to the closure of smaller schools – a suggestion denied by the authority.

Of all the groups consulted – head teachers, school staff, teachers, parents, pupils, community councils and parent groups – only head teachers were ‘more positive’ about the proposals. The rest were ‘overwhelmingly negative’.

Little surprise, then, that Stand conclude: “Our firm recommendation is to work exclusively with Head Teachers at the next stage, to shape a tangible model. Only then should this be taken back to wider audiences for consideration.”

Stand – which presented the proposals in a glossy light in a series of presentations and documents – blames teachers’ union EIS and lobbying bodies of running a ‘consolidated campaign to disrupt the consultation process with mistrust, accusations of budget cuts, and headlines on schools without Head Teachers’.

In fact. Stand’s own research shows that the most common reason for negativity (400 of 804 respondents) is that they didn’t feel the proposals were detailed enough to make a decision on.

The next most common reason for negativity to the proposal was the loss of individual school head teachers. And the third most common reason was a concern for the well-being of young people.

The council’s original proposal for a school cluster was for a pilot project in Cowal and Bute, but this was quickly rejected by local parent groups, leading to a region-wide consultation.

There was an outcry in June when Freedom of Information requests revealed that the proposals would lead to annual savings of £675,000 – despite council public council assertions they would be ‘cost-neutral’.

However, in his report to councillors, Douglas Hendry added: “The status quo is not an option.”

He went on: “The Education Service continues its commitment in striving to deliver the best possible outcomes for the children and young people of Argyll and Bute, in line with members’ ambitions and the changing national landscape of education.”

There is no denying that a projected falling school roll will spell trouble for education services in the future – but Argyll and Bute Council is going to have to think again about a sustainable solution – and perhaps involving parents from the very beginning.

See next week’s print edition for reaction to this breaking news.

The full consultation outcome can be accessed, as part of Agenda item 5, HERE

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