We’re at Lochgilphead Joint Campus to microblog the Commission for Rural Education’s public meeting for Argyll and Bute. We’ll be updating the post periodically, so refresh the page every five minutes or so.
We’re sitting in a hall with around 70 folk who have made it through the atrocious weather to listen to and interrogate the work of the commission. And of course people are still arriving. There’s a real buzz of anticipation (and we’ll estimate the audience numbers at the end of the evening because there’s no doubt we’ll have some late arrivals).
635: The convivial chat and greeting are interrupted by David Sutherland, chair of Commission sitting beside him are Jane O’Donnell, the commission secretary, also present are Sir James Fraser of UHI and Inverclyde Councillor and Education Convener, Terry Loughran.
Commission is looking at the legislation and wider issues around rural education in particular their links to rural communities. There are 15 commissioners. They hope to report in August this year. There have been 390 written responses to the call for evidence. Also visited 12 local authorities which have over 50% schools in rural areas. Have visited 9 already, with 5 more to go. Commission is holding meetings in all of these areas. And as importantly they are visiting local schools speaking to teachers, parents, pupils and members of the community. Listening to the views of everyone, in particular what they want for their children and the roll of rural schools in the community.
They were given a remit to review the act, which is quite difficult to do given that we have had only one year of it. So this is a difficult remit. And they will comment upon its application. They’ve to examine how the delivery of rural education can benefit pupils.. etc. [All of these details will be included in the commissioning paperwork ... ]
The purpose of tonight is to listen to what the audience wish to tell the commission. Written submissions, visits to schools, submissions from stakeholders are all part of the picture. They are not here to give answers, but to consider everything they hear.
We don’t live in a bubble, and we know that you have a lot to say.
645 Dierdre Henderson, Southend: went through a school closure which was an incredibly inappropriate school closures process. Any future process of potential closures should consider public transport to consultations. This is a practical, measureable consideration.
650 Councillor James Robb: Address question peripheral to legislation and that is the driver for school closures. What measures should be brought forward for the mechanism of funding rural schools, because funding is clearly the main reasons for councils wishing to close schools. Councillor Robb suggests a sliding scale might address the financial drivers which cause councils to wish to close schools.
652 Roseneath & ARSN: Looking at commissions objectives: COSLA suggested rural education socially disadvantaged children. Claims like this should be supported and evidenced.
Commissioner talks about HMIE in their submission to Commission evidenced that rural schools can be excellent. Educational attainment is not affected by the size of school. Leadership is important in all schools of any size.
655: Go beyond school, across age-group working, community involvement, intergenerational working is part of SG aims and objectives. We need to look at the effect of rural education on life chances.
656: Kilgreggan: Educational attainment not down to size of school. Makes most of the closure to date baseless. Most proposals for closure so far have focussed on bigger is better without claim. This failed argument must be stripped out of all schools proposals.
657: David Sutherland says the evidence shows there is no disbenefit around size of school.
658: Haven’t seen evidence that teachers in small schools are disadvantaged via resources and therefore can’t deliver. Through the nature of these staff working in small schools with large age-range, they are very experienced at deliver personalised education for every pupil.
659: David Sutherland: Commission have seen teachers who are geographically isolated delivering a very impressive level of education for their children. On composite classes Commission has seen that there is no disbenefit. Commission has seen teaching tailored to individual children (applause).
700: Following on from David Sutherland audience member says the composite classes benefit children into secondary school. Also, could the commission turn the question around a bit. Rural schools should be seen as an asset not a liability, making them centres of educational and community excellence. Perhaps also being connectivity centres.
701: James Fraser: on video links …. the university of HI makes enormous use of video conferencing — more than the rest of the system in any one year. Use to overcome isolation of the professionals. Use to access resources and teachers. Alot has been done, but more can be done.
702: Philip Rowlands: delivery of special needs. Philip has experience of the delivery of special needs in a rural context. Hugely positive story about how the school helped his children achieve their potential and gave them a wonderful start in life. Compartmentalising children doesn’t work, and perforce Rural schools bring everyone in, which works.
704: The commission has heard evidence of this sort before. Very conscious of the advantages of Rural Education. Terry Cochrane is disappointed Mr Rowlands first chosen larger urban school didn’t work. But sees how rural schools can provide a sense of family — which has been very evident to the commission.
705: Ursula Jones – Roseneath: Community involvement should be emphasized in the commission. Schools should be recognised as vital community hubs. Councils should liaise with local communities with regard to use of school buildings.
707: Councillor Roddy McCuish: Ensorse what Ursula says re: Community. Shut a school you shut a community. On Kerrera they shut the school some while ago, and there are no families moved to Kerrera since. School buildings should be used. General feedback is that schools are too expensive to use.
709: Councillor Isobel Strong raises the issue of N. Bute PS. The upside of the consultation process is that the community has now got a development plan in response. This is a vibrant, increasing school at the heart of the community. The council should be regenerating these communities rather than closing them.
Reeni Kennedy Boyle: A wider point on Consultation process re viable alternatives which was paid lip service. In the ABC consultation the council hadn’t acted in the spirit of this idea. Once the communities came back with alternatives it became apparent that there were any number of alternatives.
712: Fiona Phillips, Luss; One of the things we faced was the attitude that everyone in a rural area is a middle class person. It is not like that at all. There is real poverty in rural areas and this was completely ignored by the council. The issues of transport and after school activities wasn’t addressed by the council.
715: David Sutherland asks: How did the process go? The reason for asking we have to say there hasn’t been the same difficulty with all councils. How did things go wrong?
Owen Paisley of Claggan: Professional ed specialists telling us that it would be good for children move from small to larger schools. Also to hear generic alternative proposals. Complete breakdown of trust between Ed dept. and communities.
718: Louise Glen-Lee, Luing: No parent felt actually consulted. Teachers felt excluded from the process. Luing removed very quickly from the process, but needed support to go through the schools consultation process.
719: David Sutherland: there was no adherence to the act at all in Argyll and Bute Council.
720: Right across the 26 schools alot of generic statements, not one shred of evidence was provided to back up any of these statements. Uphill battle from day one. The act did not provide a level playing field for parents.
721: Councillor Al Horn: Who procedure was unfactual. Through incorrect information was provided to parents, councillors and concerned. Glaring errors in the consultation.
722: Parent at Luss: No-one actually thought about the children. The stress for the children going through the process twice caused great emotional hardship. The consultation process destroyed
723: Melissa James, Skipness; Lost headmistress shortly before. Community rallied around, but attracting people to move into the community is impossible when there’s no school. Council tried to argue and undermine parents and community.
725: Tim McIntyre: One of the reasons that there was such a breakdown in trust was because given the act, the council proceeded to ignore it. The process the council went through was to look for schools they could close. Endorse Councillor McCuish’s point about importance of a school to its community, especially when it is the only community facility in the place.
727: Fred Hall The process the council went through was to come to a conclusion and look for the evidence to support it. The purpose was to save £2M when they spent on £4.7M on consultants.
729: Councillor Robb: Taking the historical perspective. How the council looked at the council estate. Where it all went wrong was that the only driver was saving money. This was a bit of a shake-up for rural communities to show how important schools are to their communities. If schools are lying empty because they are too expensive then that’s wrong. Should be sorted. The calculations on potential savings were also completely wrong. It took councillor Robb 2 hours to demolish the apparent savings. The council forgot about the people, the communities, the children and just thought about saving money (applause).
732: Clachan: The consultation process was a dialogue of the deaf — the council would not listen to points made from parents.
734: Lorrie Sylvan, Clachan: Moved back to the village to get her kids to the school. The bring up the kids in the village she was brought up in. One of the arguments the council put forward was that the CFE couldn’t be delivered. Just not true. HMIE reports shows CFE delivered brilliantly in small schools.
735: DS the Commission has heard that the deliver of CFE is not a problem. Every teacher has said in rural schools that they were doing it before it was introduced. It was already happening in Rural Schools (Applause)
737: Stuart White, Minard: Consultation process didn’t happen at all. To call the process consultation stretches the word spin to breaking point. As well as the more profound examples already brought up, in the case of Minard School the process was so incompetent they even got the number of pupils wrong. An error repeated in the second set of consultation proposals.
738: There were fundamental flaws in ABC papers, but in addition errors on GAE calculations, building conditions etc. These only came to light through the FOI route. Multiple FOIs went in. That information came from council. Why should we have to use FOI to get the information. Factual errors were characterised as differences of opinion by the council. The call-in process is not adequate so late in the day. In the early stages call-in needs to be acted on. A consultation paper in draft should go through a quality assurance process. ABC have no idea how much money they have wasted on the consultation process.
742: David Sutherland: Is there any place for an independent audit, say by the Audit Commission on the figures being used.
743: Councillor Robb: One of the reason that the ABC consultation process fell apart because the parents knew they were wrong immediately.
744: Councillor McAlpine: Attended 4 consultation meetings for schools chair by the same man with the same panel (DS: isn’t that about consistency?) and their attitude was uniformly negative. Look at Gigha which had a poor school roll. The community built 20 houses. Did up farms etc. and now the school is flourishing.
746: Minard: Basic point to the council: when you are communicating you need to respect communities as equal partners.
Councillor Dougie Philand: Importance of local intelligence. How much weight and at what point do you put the questions and balances which will flush obvious errors and problems.
747: People complaining receiving schools were overcrowded. ABC quite willing to close IT suites and libraries in receiving schools to accommodate the influx from rural schools.
750: Helen now asking commission to define what are acceptable limits to age, travel time, safety and disclosure. What is acceptable for young children. Should they really be travelling on public transport.
752: The role of children in the consultation was a real cause for concern. ABC brought in a completely inappropriate consultant. A list of suitable consultants needs to be drawn up. Tam Bailey has been consulted in this regard.
753: Clachan: £27 per hour rental of schools on weekends and holidays is ridiculous. Needs to be addressed. Use of school broadband would be useful for communities. What about using schools as lifelong learning centre … ? Communities have huge resources of ideas and imagination and should be liaising with the council.
757: DS: Councillors, What steps should councils take to engage with communities to bring forward improvement in preservation and support of the local community.
Councillor Glen-Lee: In Luing a number of initiatives have been set up. One was a two week cafe at Easter which was great. Quality of fitments and furnishings matter. This would represent a change of ethos in terms of funding and organisation. Its about community ownership of a building without owning the building.
800: Commission recently visited a newbuild school in a very remote area. Underneath the school was the fire station. This seems to the commission of a good example of collaborative effort. The councillors are being asked whether ABC are doing this sort of thing.
Councillor Robb: the process has had a very positive effect for bringing communities together and has inputted into the strategic thinking of Development Trusts and community bodies. Its about getting the whole jigsaw right so that rural communities can have opportunities locally. Must get the joined up thinking.
804: Ashfield: The school came up with a meals on wheels service idea which would answer the question of viability.
805: Letting Schools — why does it have to be an employee who has to open a school? Why not have a vetted person to do so.
806: In terms of consultation: Important some mechanism to show parents that the school selected was the one chosen. This has to be very clear. What makes a community? Commission should look at research into the value of a school to a community …
DS: One of the commissioners is a professor of rural economics for exactly that purpose.
810: Luss: important to have more flexible thinking — the schools access other buildings, ie the village halls and these buildings should be considered as part of the consultations.
Skipness: Concur with this view. Schools and village halls have symbiotic relationship. Schools provide a calendar for the communities. Children who move on also love their school and want it to continue.
813: Councillor JohnMcApline: Can Commission give assurance that the schools they are visiting are not in any way under threat?
DS: Gives that assurance that the commission has nothing to do with the situation as regards to individual schools remaining open or closing. Recognises that in A&B there is a huge level of distrust of the council among parents.
816: Audience member interrupts to say she has an email from Cleland Sneddon saying that the commission is visiting schools that were considered for merger.
DS: Understanding that schools chosen in consultation with ARSN and the council… The commission hopes that the schools they are seeing give a good picture of rural education in Scotland.
820: Ashfield: The consultation put community against one another when one school up for closure and another not.
821: ARSN have just said the council have chosen the schools and rejected those chosen by ARSN.
822: Cleland Sneddon justifying choices. Thought they were being evenhanded given the list submitted they had 2 for ARSN and 2 from the council list.
823: Achnahoish: Inviting the commission to her school.
823: N. Bute were very pleased to see the commission. V. surprised to hear that they were on any list. Teachers are often parents and the stress these professionals go through was horrendous. A better voice is needed for these professionals.
825: Charles Dixon-Spain, Kilmodan: The proposals were horrendous and proposed to split our community. There was no respect either for the community or the parents. The proposals were quite literally ‘mince’.
826: Mention of the EBS Option Appraisal model matrix produced by consultants and used to close Hillhead and how it redefines rural schools.
DS: The commission is not looking into redefining the definition rural schools.
This is challenged by audience member and evidence produced, Q (6) Re; Urban / Rural types of schools. (We’ll get the reference and detail on this later).
James Fraser is now filling space talking about the size and classification of schools …
DS. Saying that some people felt that the definitions had great variations on margins. This is nothing to do with the commission making the recommendation.
Reeni Kennedy-Boyle: saying this question and the reason it is being posed is about the level of mistrust we have been subjected to.
827: Ann Thompson, Minard: Would never have decided to move to Minard without the presence of the village school.
832: Audience member thanks the commission for taking the audience and our communities seriously.
David Sutherland thanks us for all the information given to the commission. Tonight is an important part of the information gathering process. Everything will be folded into the mix. Clearly things happend in Argyll that are different from elsewhere. The commission is very aware of how stressful this has been and will endeavour to publish their report as quickly and efficiently as possible.
That’s it — good night!
[We said we would give a final number on attendees: between 90 and 120]