We understand on good authority that Argyll and Bute Council’s education department, led by Cleland Sneddon, is well into preparation for its strategy in a coming resumption of a war of attrition on rural schools. There are two drivers of this situation.
- The council needs to save something of the order of £2.5 million a year on education.
- Cleland Sneddon has a major job to do to recover his professional reputation after the profound incompetence of the papers he put forward to justify the attempted closure of 26 schools across Argyll and Bute in the 2010-11 war between council and communities that literally changed the faces in politics in Argyll.
We understand that the strategy this time – and one of the places where work is being done to stand it up – is to try to demolish the argument that the loss of a school spells decline for a community.
The education department is said to be determined to produce ‘a robust and evidenced report’ demonstrating that this is not the case.
On previous performance, it would be a first if this department did indeed produce something ‘robust and evidenced’. Neither of these characteristics had anything at all to do with the cases they produced in the battle the communities and the Argyll Rural Schools Network fought so manfully to save the threatened 26 schools last time around.
This preparation for war is happening at a time when there has been not a peep from the Commissions on the Delivery of Rural Education. This Commission was set up by the Education Secretary as a reason for the moratorium on school closures he decided to request of the local authorities in that last stand-off war whose principal theatre was here in Argyll.
Part of what the Commission was charged to deliver was the necessary revision of the 2010 Schools Act.
The Commission, a joint responsibility of the Education Secretary and COSLA [the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities], has not reported on any aspect of its responsibilities.
The Education Secretary’s reputation was invested in this initiative, which is looking very like the dog that didn’t bark.
The bigger picture
The once celebrated quality of Scottish education is generally shown today, at all levels, to be in a poor way – Universities are on the record as having to provide remedial education for many students before they are fit to succeed in their degree courses.
This is a situation now requiring remedial action if Scotland’s education system is to have a chance of playing its part in providing the skills and expertise to take forward the nation’s economic growth.
In this context, in the coming renewed hostilities between council and communities, there will have to be reasonable give and take on both sides.
Communities whose schools have miniscule rolls will be short of support in fighting to save them.
A key criterion here should be the cost to the child not the cost to the council. For example, a school with a roll of five may serve a community with no other option within 20 miles or 35 minutes – and where the individual small child, in being so moved, would lose the interaction with his or her local multigenerational cohort.
Communities that have clearly made strides to develop and secure their schools – in learning opportunities and achievements, in roll numbers and in constructive community engagement – will have every reason to argue for survival.
In the campaign for the far better quality of education than is currently the case in Scotland, it will not simply be the small roll rural schools that will be under question.
The so-called ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ [CfE] is a client for the sort of unblinkered scrutiny that once produced the story of the cry that the Emperor was naked.
We recommend everyone to think first of what they would expect a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ to be about – and then to go to its website and immerse themselves in what they find there – for as long as they can bear.
The words ‘content free zone’ could not be more applicable.
As most parents did, we had accepted without question that something so triumphantly enitled ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ had to be a capable initiative – and, as a small team, we cannot delve simultaneously into everything.
But as we became worried by the range of concerns about the calibre of the students we are turning out from our schools, we turned to an examination of the’ Curriculum for Excellence’. Words still fail us – but they will not do so for long.
Any serious attempt to get education in Scotland on a footing to secure the futures of its young folk and of the nation will need to see some small schools close – where the relative cost to the child is clearly small and acceptable – and see the end of the supreme misdirection of CfE.