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.
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