After a huge community response following the announcement of Argyll and Bute Council’s ‘Education Change Plan’, a motion to pause the process to allow for more ‘community engagement’ was passed.
The Education Change Plan was on the agenda at yesterday’s (Thursday) community services committee meeting.
The motion put forward by committee chair, councillor Yvonne McNeilly (Con, Cowal) stated that progressing the plan should be paused until a later meeting to allow for more discussions between stakeholders such as parents, parent councils and teachers.
Councillor Julie McKenzie (SNP, Oban North and Lorn) said: “I am really pleased to see you are changing tack on this today, as an elected member I don’t feel well enough informed to vote today.
“Not involving parent councils was remiss of the council, we cannot ignore that.”
To which Councillor McNeilly replied: “Do we get things right every time? No.”
A taste of the community response received so far was given by Dunoon’s Councillor Jim Anderson, who declared a non-financial interest due to a member of his family being a teacher, he said: “This motion is the way to go. In my years as a councillor, I’ve never had so many emails on one subject, I think that’s because parents are worried.”
A petition against the plan was also gaining traction.
The council’s SNP group was also happy to see the motion put in place, having planned to raise a similar motion itself.
Councillor, Audrey Forrest (SNP, Dunoon) said: “I am glad that the representations of our parents-in unprecedented numbers-have been listened to and I look forward to seeing the promised consultation and engagement coming forward.”
The executive director of Argyll and Bute Council, Douglas Henry, is expected to head the process of engaging with the community before reporting back to the committee at its next meeting in August.
Argyll and Bute councillors had been asked to agree bold and sweeping changes to education provision in the area.
Major changes in nine specific areas were proposed:
Beginning with Dunoon, Bute and Kintyre, councillors were asked to agree to schools not having a dedicated head teacher, but a single ‘executive head teacher’ and a series of deputes looking after year groups in a ‘cluster’ of up to seven schools.
Also under consideration were plans to streamline the council’s education management structure, maximise revenue from school buildings and facilities, devolving school management, developing further a learning estate strategy, increasing the use of digital technology for learning, developing a common timetable for senior students across Argyll and Bute and reviewing the work structure and roles of the council’s early years team.
Councillors were also asked to agree that the asymmetric week structure – currently in use at Dunoon Grammar among other schools, is not introduced in Argyll and Bute schools until the common senior timetable is established.
Council officers also examined the possibility of engaging business managers for schools, but this will not be taken forward.
By far the most controversial of the proposals is the far-reaching change to schools’ leadership.
In his report to yesterday’s meeting Executive Director Douglas Hendry said: “It is recognised that change is necessary and the focus is on challenging the status quo and doing things differently to improve services through the use of enhanced digital learning opportunities and empowered management practices that complement the dispersed rural population of this area.
“The impact of the pandemic over the last year has highlighted the need to have a flexible approach.”
The proposed Dunoon cluster would see potentially seven primaries and one secondary with a combined roll of 1,450 pupils.
The affected schools are Dunoon Grammar School, and primary schools at Dunoon, Kirn, Sandbank (including the Gaelic unit), Innellan, Toward and Strone.
The proposed Bute cluster would see potentially three primaries and one secondary with a combined roll of 649 pupils, and an Early Learning Centre roll of 45..
The affected schools are Rothesay Academy and Rothesay Primary (already sharing a campus), and North Bute Primary.
The council hopes to include St Andrew’s Primary on Bute and St Mun’s Primary in Dunoon in the clusters, but is in the process of asking the Catholic Church for agreement.