School Closures: a parent’s plea – schools unite and coordinate online

The 26 schools under threat of closure are constantly told that the only way to defeat the council’s ongoing cuts is to be united and not let them divide us. How do we get together, let alone not be divided? And how do we make our voice heard both individually as schools, and collectively as a network?

Unlike the council we do not have the ready-made paraphernalia of communications, buildings, meetings and administrators. We are disadvantaged hugely by this. Their private intranet ( supposed to be available for public and business subscription) means dictats can be issued in a matter of seconds to all council employees. They can organise meetings easily, and also they know who each other are. We don’t. We are disparate, unable to be so centrally coordinated. Well we don’t need to be. Wouldn’t want to be. We can get online.

So as parents and parent councils what resources do we have at our disposal already, and how do we use them to share information?

The first major resource, and it is being developed at the moment so we don’t have a direct link, is via Scotland’s Rural Schools Network (SRSN). These guys are in the process of setting up a forum for Parent Councils from threatened schools. This action has been inspired by the first mass schools extermination attempt in Moray in 2005.

Then the council tried to close 21 schools. They were completely unsuccessful (although one school with a roll of 2 was later closed). The forum acted as a central meeting point and galvanic focus for all the schools involved — and every school subscribed to the forum — and nearly all attended the resultant strategy meeting at which the representatives committed to working together against the proposals.

As a model, this is something we should all seek to emulate. There’ll also be a readout on where the Moray campaign worked really well, and where they felt they could have done better.

The SRSN site itself brings together the facts and the arguments which can be used to form a rock-solid basis for every school’s defence against these iniquitous cuts. This is brilliant compelling stuff and needs to be read through to get a real handle on how you can deconstruct the proposal for your school.

Join SRSN’s mailing list to keep up with their progress. Of course it will be reported on ForArgyll.com but here you will get the detail on each school. I can’t emphasise how important it is to support their ongoing efforts and, of course, by subscribing you will get to know when the forum is up and running.

Obviously the second major resource is ForArgyll.com. I can’t emphasise how important using this site is to make our case against the council visible. The team at ForArgyll.com can see from the stats that the site is read not only by parents and teachers, but by council employees, and particularly councillors.

For concerned parents and Parent Councils this is a superb, direct route to making our campaign visible and compelling. So how can we use ForArgyll?

Well, we can give the team at ForArgyll tip-offs on the latest news from the council, our schools and our areas – there’s a contact page link top right of every page for private communication. We can even contribute stories ourselves, hrough the ‘Your News’ section in the righthandside column (which is what this is).

We can comment on the stories that are published, making sure that local nuances are not overlooked. For example, if your school isn’t mentioned in the article, ensure you namecheck it in a pertinent comment. Remember councillors do read these articles and they do respond in the comments underneath. If, for example, they see that Ulva School is mentioned, they’ll be able to reference it when it comes to arguing the case in council.

Use the site to represent the voiceless contingent in all this: the teachers. ForArgyll.com knows for a fact that Head Teachers and teaching staff check in here every night looking for the latest news and encouragement because ,believe me, they need encouragement.

A lot of those very able, highly competent professionals are feeling deeply undermined and unconfident at the moment, and it is up to us as parents, friends and communities to give them the support they need to get through this difficult time and continue teaching our kids as well as they have ever done.

SRSN and ForArgyll.com are uniquely placed to provide direct and ongoing advice and news — they’re quoted by ministers in the Scottish Parliament and feared in pertinent quarters of the council.

Your online coordination will need a home. ForArgyll.com and SRSN are great for the overall picture and making contact with the wider context, but you should use your local community website if possible. Publish all the documents you produce on this website and link to them whenever you talk about your proposals. Why? It gives ownership to the campaign to your community and ensures that, for example, when a council clicks on a link in a comment on the SRSN network, they see that there is a community behind the school. It also means that parent councils looking for you will find you. They may not know about SRSN or ForArgyll.com but your community is on the list …

And if you haven’t got access to the community site, or if you haven’t got a community site, go to wordpress.com and sign up for a blog and publish everything there. You’ll be immediately entered in the search engines, and you need no technical expertise.

Two other online routes can and should be used to widen your information and coordinating network (can you guess what is coming next?).

Social networking is often pilloried as being a great way to waste an huge amount of time doing diddly-squat. These sites are the campaigning parents’ friends.

Facebook is a great way to immediately share insights — if people have an account on a social network, FB will be the one. I know of two schools who have reached out to parents in the receiving schools to see whether there is a commonality of purpose (and they found that commonality, which was brilliant).

FB is also a superb way of gathering support from old pupils of the threatened schools, as well as second home owners and holiday-makers in the area. Use this groundswell as it is great for morale. So set up a FB page for people to ‘Like’ and get them to become a fan — then they’ll get updates whenever you post them. This is a great way to amass support as well as perhaps accessing expertise you may not find anywhere else.

Linkedin (good for professionals, esp. legals), myspace.com and bebo.com might also be worth looking at in this regard especially if you have a yahoo, gmail or hotmail account, as all of these will read your contact list and seek them out.

And talking of amassing support and expertise, there’s a great schools-based database of alumni out there … its called friendsreunited.com! This is a gift for our schools. Go in and even if you weren’t a pupil at the school being threatened with closure, join that group and then contact everyone who ever went to the school. You never know there might be a lawyer prepared to work pro bono to mount a legal challenge to the council’s proposals.

The last element in this online picture is the petition. While this is no substitute for the written, signatures-in-a-list version, you can access the positive support of all sorts of folk who are stakeholders in your community, no matter how partial or minimal that stake is. Direct everyone you find online to this and you never know there may be a golden phrase one of your petitioner’s comes up with that will set a different aspect of the issue alight. A good example is gopetition.com, but there are plenty of options out there.

If we can use these tools to communicate, to share and to discuss (particularly the upcoming forum at SRSN), and if we can maintain the momentum of our challenge to the council’s proposals, and if we can do this with a level of unanimity, it means that when we do meet, at the next council shindig at the end of November, we may not recognise one another’s faces, but we’ll know as parents that we are standing among allies against a common foe, defending not a school, but all our schools.

(Actually, there may be online opportunities I have missed. If so, let us all know in the comments facility below!)

This article was submitted via ‘Your News‘ by Charles Dixon-Spain, a parent with children at Kilmodan Primary School, Clachan of Glendaruel. Charles is also Internet Services Director for this site.

To submit your story, please click here

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7 Responses to School Closures: a parent’s plea – schools unite and coordinate online

  1. From Anne Baird:
    ‘The last time Argyll & Bute tried to close schools we put the six threatened schools together (Drumlemble, Glassary, Ulva, Newton, Toward and Bridge of Orchy). It threw up a range of expertise – planners, architects, doctors, journalists etc – and we shared all information. We also managed to provide accounts of the questions and answers from each consultation meeting to each school. By the time of the last meeting in Bridge of Orchy we were able to completely puncture their presentation before it started. There is no doubt in my mind that working together is the best route.

    ‘On that occasion I simply went through the phone book, called each school and got the contact details for the chairperson. It’s a slightly larger task this time, but some will already be on this mailing list. We did have a Yahoo group, but in reality it was email that we relied on’.

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  2. @ Mr MacKenzie
    Just how is this self centred, political tirade of little content relevant to an well presented article about how the communities can work together to save our schools.

    If you had wanted to present a party political broadcast, FA have a handy “your news” format now.

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    • For linnhe: cannot thank you enough for drawing this to our attention.

      Mr Mackenzie’s post has not been removed – exactly. It is with the story: EXCLUSIVE on School closures: head teachers to condemn their own schools.

      What happened was that when we were approving comments pending, we came to Mr Mackenzie’s comment, approved it, got interrupted by a phone call and when we came back to the approvals list, found two more posts from Mr Mackenzie. We approved the first of these – then realised it was identical to the one already approved, looked at the second one and saw that it too was identical. We interpreted this (obviously wrongly) as a submissions error, deleted the last one and went back and deleted the second one – which must have been the story where you found it and commented.

      We now see that Mr Mackenzie had submitted the comment to three stories, presumably all to do with the School Closures issue. It;s still in the one identified above. We will now copy it back into the story where you found it – and will ask Mr Mackenzie whose contact details we already have because he has written for us, whihc was the third story he posted the comment to – and copy it back into that.

      This has been wholly our mistake in getting distracted by the three identical posts and forgetting to check whether they were posted to the same or different stories. We apologise to you and to Mr Mackenzie for this.

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  3. Posted on 8th November 2010 by Mike Mackenzie and accidentally removed. (It should preceded linnhe’s comment above which relates to it.)

    I must congratulate For Argyll for taking up a robust defence of our schools and for a return, after some months, to a style of journalism that serves to illuminate rather than obscure what are often complex issues.

    I am resolutely opposed to school closures but I am sorry to say that in this I seem to find myself in a minority. Isn’t this what people voted for in the recent General Election? Wasn’t this the democratic choice which was made? The UK Parties made it clear that they differed only in the scale and speed with which they proposed implementing cuts; and in this only marginally. What we are seeing in the proposed school closures is only the beginning of these.

    I recall For Argyll welcoming the Westminster Coalition despite the Tories commitment to deeper and more savage cuts than the other Parties. Did you think Argyll and Bute would escape the Tory cuts? It was obvious too during the election campaign that the promiscuous Mr Clegg would leap into bed with anyone and that policy pledges and principle would disappear in the wink of a come-hither eye. And did anyone in Argyll and Bute really think that Alan Reid has the stuff and substance to defy his Party and stand up for Argyll and Bute in such circumstances?

    Of course most of the people of Scotland didn’t vote for cuts of this scale. We are a different country with a different set of values. Unfortunately the current devolutionary arrangements leave the Scottish Government and our Councils in a very difficult position and they are forced into implementing the Tory cuts, even when it is increasingly recognised that the scale and speed of cuts risks tipping us back into recession. Distinguished Economists have been lining up one after another to denounce the Coalition cuts as economically illiterate. Few outside the ranks of the ConDem coalition can be found to defend them.

    Just as such extreme curtailing of public sector budgets is wrong at the macro level they are also wrong at any level. The macro after all is only the aggregate of the micro.

    Argyll and Bute is particularly vulnerable to the ongoing rebalancing of budgets which we are being forced to follow. We have higher public sector dependence than most other parts of Scotland and GDP per capita is only 75% of the Scottish average. Scottish politics have long been dominated by the Labour Party with an overbearing central belt bias. Rural socio economics are therefore poorly understood. Furthermore, Labour has for generations fostered a culture of dependency which actively mitigates against creative and entrepreneurial solutions to our problems. It is this authoritative and Kremlinesque culture which crowds out innovative solutions to problems and prevents genuine and productive partnerships between Government and Government agencies, with business and with communities. This is the dead hand of Labour.

    Argyll and Bute is not immune from this malaise. Indeed Argyll and Bute Council still has a surfeit of this cultural suffusion, absorbed when it was the Siberia of Strathclyde Region and public sector employees who couldn’t cut it in Glasgow were put out to graze here.

    It is this stultifying culture the SNP Government sought to tackle in 2007 when the North Star of policy was set as sustainable economic growth. Increasing sustainable economic growth was always going to be a long term project because it involves first fostering an innovative and entrepreneurial culture. After decades of dependency and the mindset it produces this is no easy task but neither is it a policy of empty rhetoric. Setting up the Council of Economic Advisors and then the Saltire Prize are bold steps towards this goal. Indeed they are already offering answers, and answers that are relevant to Argyll and Bute and perhaps to these problems of school closure.

    At the first meeting of the newly appointed Council of Economic Advisers the distinguished economists, Nobel Laureates included, decided that if Scotland wished to become prosperous, high on this first agenda was the need to sort out our planning system. It is this same planning system that is at the heart of this problem of our schools because planning is and ought to be about maintaining sustainable communities.

    This problem and in particular that of ensuring an adequate housing supply is at the heart of both Argyll and Bute’s economic problem and of the demographics behind school closures.

    Argyll and Bute is home to a large slice of Scotland’s renewable energy opportunities. Developers and Communities are all too aware of this as they rush to capitalise on these natural assets. Thanks to the FITs scheme, guaranteed by the UK Government, these are low risk and very profitable investments. Even the banks are lending on renewables although they are lending on nothing else.

    It is a sure sign of our dependency culture that Argyll and Bute Council can think of no response to a falling allowance from Government than to cut services. This is the ‘Chicken Little’ response that the sky is falling on their heads. Like rabbits in the headlights their gaze is fixated on the grant side of the budget and on cuts but not on other potential sources of income.

    Facilitating the building of more homes in the right places by ensuring an adequate land supply for housing through the planning system would increase Council tax revenue at almost no cost to the Council. Only last week Jim MacKinnon the Chief Planner wrote to all the planning directors in Scotland urging them to do just this. A comparatively small number of additional homes in the right places will ensure full school rolls in many of our most fragile communities.

    In some parts of the country almost every local school has its own wind turbine, heating the building and providing a further revenue contribution. Why not in Argyll and Bute? I see no reason in principle that, if we are to have windfarms, we should not have an Argyll and Bute community windfarm, owned by our Council, with the significant profits produced aimed at maintaining vital services.

    Under the circumstance we now face this might be a better allocation of the funds currently committed to the CHORD project. Certainly the CHORD project itself ought to be reviewed. It is surely questionable to have substantial funds committed to what in many cases amounts to prettifying waterfronts at the same time as you are closing schools.

    When I ask these questions of Council officers and elected members no one can give me answers. They look at their feet. There may be very good reasons why these suggestions may not be workable, there may be a hundred, but I have yet to hear a single one.

    The entrepreneur is the one person in a thousand who won’t take no for an answer and pursues his ideas to fruition. They make mistakes and ideas fail but some survive. Those that survive are the drivers of our wealth. Think what we could do if we once again became an entrepreneurial society. Think what we could do if our public sector was to embrace the modicum of entrepreneurial spirit that still exists in our communities and in our businesses and work with these people instead of being threatened by them.

    My father and his sister were for a time the only two pupils in the school on Kerrera, during and just after the war, when there was still a bit of greatness in Britain as we faced our darkest hours. That was the last time the UK had comparable public debts to those we have at present. The post war Government could have bowed to these pressures just as we are doing. Instead they showed great courage, launched the welfare state in its current form, established the NHS and embarked on a massive public works programme; building roads and houses. They literally built their way out of recession and poverty. We owe them a great debt for their principals, their wisdom and their indomitable spirit.

    If ever more evidence was required that the UK Parties have run out of ideas we have it now. The British state is broke and bereft of vision. It has run out of courage and conviction. Cameron cannot fix it and neither could Brown with his bullish assertion that he had ended boom and bust.

    With still half of our oil to be siphoned, a significant helping of Europe’s renewable energy potential, an abundant supply of clean water and the ability to grow our own food an Independent Scotland can assume our share of debt, maintain a triple AAA rating, and set a new course for sustainable prosperity for all of our communities. This is the alternative to closing our schools.

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  4. Thanks to some subtle if unintended manipulation by the editorial team linnhe’s response to Mike Mackenzie’s comment was left hgh and dry above Mr. Mackenzie’s comment so I thought it was worth repeating here:

    @ Mr MacKenzie
    Just how is this self centred, political tirade of little content relevant to an well presented article about how the communities can work together to save our schools.

    If you had wanted to present a party political broadcast, FA have a handy “your news” format now.

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    • Foe Webcraft: Subtle? We wish. We were knackered and it was a stupid if understandable mistake for which we apologise to all concerned – and which we put right as soon as linnhe’s puzzled email query arrived and alerted us to what had happened..

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