Comment posted 2010 School’s Act now a charter to close rural schools by newsroom.
And, if it is NOT adopted ‘as an acceptable approach going forwards’, where does that leave Hillhead?
Is it acceptable that this educationally strong, communally necessary and physically capable school would be left as the sole victim of an enforced closure against the evidence?
That it would have been made so by what the Scottish Government’s Education Department has formally pronounced itself ‘content’ with as a valid educational benefits statement fulfilling a local authority’s statutory obligations in this regard?
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- For Topsy Turvy: There will be more on this in an article we will be publishing on the position in which the Commission for the Delivery of Rural Education is now left.
Working on this has led us to identify further serious failures by the Scottish Government’s Education Department to comply with the statutory requirements of the law they are supposed to implement as its guardians.
These relate specifically to Scottish Ministers’ particular and precedent setting determination of Highland’s Wick proposals.
In our view there is a very good case for Judicial Review and we will seek legal opinion on this.
- The trouble is that any possible interpretation of this serious situation does not reassure on the state of the Scottish Government’s Education Department or on the Education Secretary.
Procedurally, the Education Secretary would have to sign off communications sent from his department in the name of Scottish Ministers. It is unthinkable that a civil servant would have unmonitored signing authority to commit the Scottish Government.
Logically, the interpretation sequence is:
1. The Education secretary fully knew what he was doing.
2. He knew what he was doing but didn’t think about the precedent being set.
3. He knew the TACTIC he was agreeing but not its specifics, did NOT inform himself about them AND didn’t think about the precedent being set.
4. He didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t ask what it was he was agreeing.
5. He didn’t know what he was doing but DID ask and was given partial information which satisfied him without further questions.
6. He didn’t know what he was doing but DID ask and was given misleading information.
From our own close observation of what the Education Secretary says and does and especially on school closure issues, our money’s on option 3,
The Education Secretary is not a creature of strategy but is informed by a keenly honed tactical awareness which is essentially pragmatic, focused on a solution to the pressures of the moment.
Option 5 is a likely explanation to be offered. It offers the Education Secretary a let out clause. It comes as close to scapegoating a civil servant as you could get without triggering open revolt – but, for a senior minister, that is preferable to Option 6, which would indicate an out of control department where civil servants were running their own agenda.
What is certain in any of this is that NO ONE in the Education Department, at any level, thought about the precedent being set. That lack of intellectual and procedural grasp of the spectrum of consequences of actions is of concern.
- On the increasingly anarchic situation on education closures: East Dunbartonshire Council announced 2 weeks ago another Primary School Estate Review to be conducted in its area – in June, with he same criteria as before and with the Commission not reporting until August, possibly at the earliest.
- The Caledonian Economics options appraisal model has been endorsed formally by Scottish Ministers as additionally providing a valid education benefits statement, with which they are ‘content’ and which they regard as fulfilling ‘statutory duties in this regard’.
In relation to the application of this model in the case detailed in the article above. it is worth noting just how this was operated in practice in the case of the Hillhead and Wick North Schools.
Section 6.3 of Highland Council’s closure proposal paper refers to the outcome of a two day workshop attended by local Headteachers. In conjunction with costings, the results of the workshop were interpreted as showing that the new school was the best value for money as well as showing educational advantages.
HIghland Council says:
‘The option appraisal report recommends the creation of a new school on the North Primary School site on the basis that it produces a higher Value for Money rating than refurbishing the existing schools. The recommendation was based on the outcome of the 2 day work-shop attended by the Caithness Head Teachers and the appropriate officials from Education Culture & Sport and the Housing and Property Service. The detailed analysis of deliverables and related cost implications of the options considered is outlined in the option appraisal report produced by CEL.’
However, the options appraisal scored the two schools as if they were one, producing a deflated score which Hillhead on its own significant.ly betters – even by the seriously skewed weightings of the model in favour of large schools.
The way in which the two-day workshop referred to was conducted and the way in which this options appraisal was carried out caused much concern among those attending the workshop.
The upshot of this was that, as FoI revealed, six of the seven Headteachers who belong to the Wick High School Area School Group expressed significant reservations about these two days.
Concerned at the increasing emphasis placed on these two days before parents and elected members, the Headteachers wrote this letter to Mr Mackenzie at the end of June 2011 identifying major concerns about the process they had been involved with. They said:
‘The days were poorly organised. The pressure of time which was evident throughout the two days resulted in a very limited and rushed discussion of a large number of issues.
‘The evaluation of the options all (their emphasis) had to be done in the final hour of the two days. Despite Caithness headteachers having asked for prior information about the nature of the two days, this was not supplied.
‘Time for reflective evaluation was minimal. At times speed as opposed to consensus was the critical variable in moving forward. …
‘Within this pre-prepared structure our group felt that there was a strong in-built bias towards ’bigger is best’. …
‘As a group we do not feel confident that the complexity of schools, their relationship with their community and their ability to create successful citizens of the future can be fully or properly evaluated in a paper and pencil exercise of this nature, carried out in this way.’
Hillhead School Council feels that these two points seriously undermine the alleged educational benefits which rest on the outcome of this two day workshop.
It should be noted that this information was before the the Scottish Government’s Education Department call-in team who went on to create the precedent that cripples the use of the 2010 Schools Act – in order to support the decision to close the schools in question.
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