One left under the Christmas Tree

dudleyowenDeputy's Blog 2019

StJames

The week before Christmas my husband & I received a letter from Deputy Matt Fallaize, President of Education Sport & Culture (ESC) informing parents what uniform our children would be wearing in the years ahead.

I took my outrage…., as this was out of kilter with a Happy Christmas, Goodwill to all men and that…, I decided to wrap it in pretty Christmas paper and stow it out of the way until after the holiday. I’ve unwrapped it since and have decided to put finger to keyboard and share my feelings as I know that others feel as indignant about this matter as I do.

And the reason for my indignation? Well quite honestly, I am not interested in what uniform my child might be wearing in 4 years, I want to know that my child is going to learn in a stable educational setting with as little interruption as possible, with teachers who remain happy in their jobs and confident of their future. I want to be assured that our island children will not be short changed and be the subject of bad planning and politicking.

I wanted to bring these things to your attention, because I believe that there are big concerns about many issues, such as their children getting lost in these larger schools, parents not wanting their children’s schools to become building sites, nor do they want the learning of their children to be disturbed. I also think that people are confused and bemused by the current situation, probably fed-up to the back teeth of the education system, being used as a political football – I am too.

I have heard parents concern that if St Sampson’s is the first building site and then Les Beaucamps will become the “premier college”… a real north/west divide! The reporting of results of both schools merged together means that there is no scrutiny of the marks and performance of each of these new organisations. How do we know who is doing better, who needs to pull up their socks, who needs the praise and to share their best practice? We have received very little detail to allay sincere fears and concerns.

So, I have put some thought into the letter that we received back in October which described the transition and realise that this gave us very little detail as parents. I attach the letter, (a copy attached here to view)) in case you have forgotten the content, or didn’t receive it, and I have gone through some of the key areas where I as a parent have concerns about the learning outcomes – how well will, our children, do.

One point to make is that I could well have made my way to the “Drop In” at Les Beaucamp, but let’s face it December isn’t a good month for getting free time… with all the events on during a very busy time, I’m not sure how many others, like me couldn’t make that date either.


 

The letter tells us that “Resources will be used more effectively”.

  • I wonder how this will be achieved, particularly as some students and teachers may have to commute between sites. Will we be assured of continuity of staff especially through all important GCSE & A’levels periods?

We are told that “The number of students in each college will be in line with the average size of the highest attaining comprehensive schools nationally, almost all of which have 6th forms.”

  • What is this size and how is it relevant to the Guernsey context? Are they comparable? Do those schools take excellent students from neighbouring areas leaving them bereft of “talented” excellent students? Do I want my children in a highly charged academically geared school if that’s not a good fit for them?

The same paragraph states, “All students will have the widest possible range of curricular and extra-curricular opportunities. Teachers in Guernsey will be able to work across all key states in secondary education….”

  • Those teachers currently at our 3 secondary schools don’t teach 6th form, therefore how will ESC ensure that skills are refreshed to enable effective 6th form teaching, or is the assumption that all senior management/department posts will be taken by existing Grammar School teachers? How will this affect retention of our secondary school teachers if they feel perhaps that their career advancement is impeded. Will this cause higher turn over and consequential negative impacts for our children. Part of the sell of this plan was to give all teachers an opportunity to teach in 6th form.
  • Or will teachers, who are currently teaching only 11-16, get additional training to refresh skills and knowledge to teach A’level & IB (International Baccalaureate)? Will all teachers be capable of delivering an up to date curriculum for 16-18yrs olds by 2022?
  • If the two schools offer different curricula at this stage, how can ESC ensure that the quality of the offer is maintained. What if one 6th form “site” becomes more popular than the other and renders its partner site unviable due to a lack of required numbers? What impact will this have on my child’s 6th form education if they are at the site which doesn’t meet the economy of scale.

The letter continues “…we made a commitment that before the October Half term we would announce the sites we propose to use for secondary education ……..We have completed the work necessary to meet that commitment.”

  • When will the parents and wider community see the plans for these sites? Parents have now been waiting a year. The previous ESC Committee plans were presented over one year ago. Why are we still being left with the uncertainty?

The letters re-confirms that “the two 11-18 colleges will be based at Baubigny in St Sampson’s and Les Beaucamps.”

  • What will the impact of the build-outs be on general infrastructure on roads and transport? Will I have to leave home at 730am to get my child to school on time for 830am because of traffic jams? If my child takes the bus, how long will the journey take, if roads are clogged will they have to walk an extended distance to school, what will this be like in bad weather and will there be any Health & Safety issues?

Having sat on the Committee myself, one bit of detail this next statement concerns me greatly, “In the coming months and years we will work closely with our teaching profession and their union representatives as we transition from four sites to two”.

  • I would have expected that extensive consultation and collaboration would already have been undertaken with teaching staff and unions as part of the planning process as the previous committee did. I would like to be reassured of what consultation has been undertaken to date and are the teaching staff and unions supportive of the plans? If they are not happy could some teachers leave our education system or even threaten strike action? Both actions would impact on my child’s learning.

We know that “clearly education is about much more than buildings”, as the letter states.  So,

  • what are the plans to minimise the inevitable negative impact on outcomes for young people during the transition?

The letter tells us that “for the academic year 2022/23 the school at Les Varendes will accommodate students in Years 11 and 13.”

  • What is the plan for managing the declining number of students based at the Grammar School? How will the teaching be split between the 3 sites (2 new schools & the 6th form centre) during transition? What are the disadvantages of this plan, how will these impact on students outcomes and be mitigated against?
  • If there is a further reduction of the number of students remaining at the 6th Centre for any reason, will this exacerbate the negative impact on student outcomes and the ability to allocate teaching resources? At what number of students will it become unviable to maintain selective education at the 6th form for the remaining years?

The content of the letter raises those questions in my mind and doesn’t answer the following which are important for in terms of our community and the future of education in Guernsey:

  • How can I be sure that these planned school redevelopments are even going to happen by 2022, as no plans been submitted for the Planning Department as yet?
  • When will the detailed construction plans be ready, how can parents be assured that plans are likely to be accepted by the States and if we will see a U-turn to 3 or the re-introduction of selection and 4 schools?
  • When ESC presented their plans for consolidating our Primary Schools in line with the extant States resolutions? Which Primary schools are likely to close?
  • 90% of students will complete their compulsory education on the same site which they joined Yr 7. How accurate is the figure of 90% and how has this been determined? How will this be achieved? What subjects will be affected and what are the subject choices which will determine that my child has to move site in order to access the full curriculum.
  • If numbers fall below a certain level will the 16-18 provision remain viable on both sites.
  • Is an academic hurdle required to continue into the 6th form. If not achieved then what options are open to my child?

The blueprint for the “Fallaize/Graham Vision for Education” (my title not theirs) was worked up during the Spring/Summer of 2017 and I wonder why 18months on, we are none the wiser on knowing the answers to some of these fundamental  questions.